Rebuilding lung capacity still poor-ish years after quitting smoking?
May 15, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I quit smoking years ago, but still run out of breath while cycling, long before my legs are fatigued.

This question was helpful, but is about a more recent quitter.

I smoked a pack a day for 16 years: 10 years on, a few years off, then a few more years, and quit about 8 years ago. I'm 46, 6'3", 220 lb. and ride 50-60 miles/week commuting & for fun, mostly flat but pretty quick (avg. 15 mph, sprint to 25 mph).

I'm on Advair & Singulair for asthma-like symptoms (or mild COPD?), coughing exacerbated by talking & shortness of breath). I don't feel airway constriction: if I stop exercising, I can catch my breath. This started up when I first quit, went away for a few years & came back last fall with a couple of bad colds (after I hadn't had a cold or flu in well over 2 years).

I've seen a few doctors and had a couple of spirometry tests. Albuterol doesn't improve my lung function. I'm planning to go back to my Dr. for some clarity on diagnosis. Early on, they all said "reactive airway disease", but that seems to be more of a summary of symptoms than a diagnosis.

I'm really sensitive to dust, smoke & pollen. Smoking pot last weekend took me back down a couple of rungs. I won't repeat that, but might still use a vaporizer. Edibles (consumed in the evening for RSI) give me hangovers.

The earlier question suggested what I'm already doing, but perhaps more of it: aerobic exercise. Improvement is so damned gradual that it's hard to tell if it's happening at all. I tried biking up a local mountain that I've gone over once before & though I thought I was pacing myself pretty well, had to give up 1/3 of the way up.

Is there anything else I should be doing or any questions I should ask my Dr.? eNO test?
posted by morganw to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
Best answer: Are there any group rides in your area? I suggest them for two reasons: because the best way to get faster is to ride with a group that's slightly faster than you, and because the best source of training advice is from an experienced cyclist who has ridden with you. (In particular, I can't actually say for sure without knowing this mountain, your pace, and the wind, but I strongly suspect that you're underestimating how much harder it is to climb, especially when you weigh 220 lbs. That's a good forty to eighty pounds more than most cyclists have to lift.)
posted by d. z. wang at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2014

Best answer: How did you test whether albuterol helps? It doesn't help on tests for me (spirometry, etc) because I'm either fine during the test or if I do it post-onset am already in the exercise-induced asthma. But when I take two puffs about 30 minutes before exercising, the cough-variant exercise-induced asthma is gone and I can breathe better while running despite never feeling like I was having breathing problems.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2014

I used to have a hole in my left lung. I don't anymore. Some thoughts:

If you want meds, you might try Guaifenesin. It is an expectorant. I think I took it for like six years or something like that. You should take it with lots of water and a bit of extra salt. Salt is an important component of mucus and this drug will not work that well if you aren't getting enough fluids and salt.

Because salt is an important component of mucus, you should also consider getting better quality salt into your diet. For a long time, the only salt I consumed was Celtic Sea Salt. If you don't want to go that far, at least get kosher salt or something else relatively clean. If you are consuming a lot of salt to help your lungs heal, you don't need extra anti-caking ingredients and other fun stuff like that typically found in regular table salt.

Someone recommended glyconutrients for me and I took those for a few years. MCT oil is well established as helpful for people with my condition. Coconut oil is high in MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides) and, ultimately, I found that taking glyconutrients, coconut oil and sea salt together had the biggest impact on healing my lungs (it also can cause hella diarrhea, so I generally scheduled this for Friday evening so I could be sick all weekend).

I also modified my diet to eat a less acidic diet. This may or may not have relevance for you. Most Americans eat a too acid diet so I am guessing you probably have room for improvement here but you likely do not have the serious acidity issues that my condition causes.

Also, you might try vacationing at higher altitude. I lived at 3000 feet above sea level for a time and that is likely part of why I did not die from pneumonia in 2001.

I did a ton of other stuff but ...that is a quick and dirty nutshell version of what I think might help you.
posted by Michele in California at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2014

I'm an asthmatic but I've smoked off and on and unlike you, I tend to get really bad airway constriction a few days after starting up again. So I don't know if this will be useful but in terms of home remedies, I really like turmeric capsules and Rooibos tea, both of which have excellent anti inflammatory properties. In a pinch I've found that a turmeric capsule/Rooibos tea cocktail is roughly equivalent to a couple of puffs of albuterol. Which is helpful if you're constantly misplacing your inhaler, as I am.

But it seems like you're experiencing something closer to exercise-induced asthma, brought on by the smoking? I also get very winded when I exercise and understand that it really isn't the same thing as airway constriction.

I did find however, that when I was regularly doing yoga, my breathing didn't take nearly as much of a hit when I jogged on the treadmill. Maybe you could incorporate a little yoga into your routine and see what comes of it?
posted by ChickenBear at 12:39 AM on May 17, 2014

Response by poster: > How did you test whether albuterol helps? It doesn't help on tests for me (spirometry, etc) because I'm either fine during the test or if I do it post-onset am already in the exercise-induced asthma. But when I take two puffs about 30 minutes before exercising

Oh. Oh! Yes- it didn't improve my at-rest spirometry numbers, but a puff during recovery seemed to help a bit. I'll take a flow meter with me next ride & see if albuterol measurably improves my breathing when I'm air "hungry."
posted by morganw at 3:17 PM on May 19, 2014

Yeah, try the albuterol a minimum of 15 minutes before (max 1 hour before) exercise and see how you do. Don't wait until you're already "air hungry" to take the albuterol, though, or it won't help (much) if you're anything like me.

Also if you don't have a spacer, get one (or if you want to try it out first, make one out of a water bottle). They increase the efficacy of the albuterol by like 70% (water bottle probably by like 40%).
posted by vegartanipla at 5:53 PM on May 19, 2014

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