Coping With COPD Flare-Ups and Exercise
When COPD symptoms flare up we’re faced with the challenge of dealing not only with the flare-up itself but the recovery process as well. After my recent COPD flare-up before the Gold Coast marathon, I thought I’d share my experience.
The Week Before the Race
After many hours pounding the pavement and treadmill, I was ready to take on my next challenge: a half marathon. This race was an important lead-up event in preparation for the New York City Marathon in November as it would give me an idea of how my training was progressing.
When you’ve been training for an event, the last thing you need in the week leading up to the race is a COPD exacerbation. That was the reality I was hit with when I woke up on the Monday morning six days before I was due to run the Gold Coast Half Marathon. I awoke feeling unwell and very short of breath. A quick check on my pulse oximeter confirmed what I already suspected — my oxygen levels had dropped to 85%.
I talked about having an action plan in my previous post on panic attacks and COPD, so it was time to practice what I preach!
When I’ve had exacerbations in the past, it has been generally due to the onset of a chest infection, this time there was a difference. I was feeling unwell but I had no other symptoms other than an increase in shortness of breath.
How Do I Deal With a Flare-Up?
Part of my action plan, written in consultation with my lung specialist, is to have antibiotics and prednisone on hand. So I started a course of prednisone and made an appointment with my doctor. The doctor confirmed that I didn’t have an infection that the probable cause was an allergic reaction and that taking the course of prednisone was the best way to treat my shortness of breath.
I now had five days to recover for the race — is that even possible?
Of course it is, that’s my mindset if I’m serious about making the start line. Plenty of rest, and sticking to my medications as well as increasing my zinc supplement (an immune system booster) and, as they say in Australia, ”she’ll be right, mate”. The reality for most patients is that running 21.1 ks or 13.1 miles at any time, let alone six days after an exacerbation is unlikely, so I just had to let nature take its course.
By Wednesday evening I hadn’t improved much and while I wasn’t losing all hope, I was thinking about a contingency plan. Maybe I could walk most of the way and just get through it – I certainly wasn’t thinking about withdrawing; I just needed to trust that my fitness level was such that my body would recover quickly.
As the week continued, things improved and my confidence in making the race was growing. By Saturday morning I was feeling much better; I still had some shortness of breath but my oxygen levels were back over 90%. However, knowing what I was in for the following day I had to be sure my body was up to it, I hadn’t run at all week and I needed a test. I decided to go for a short 3k run and check my heart rate and oxygen level responses. If they were satisfactory, then I’d be at the start line Sunday morning.
Next Page: Race Day, Lessons Learned, and The Recover