The reason why I will deviate from using my blog for describing my usual trip or ride experiences and venture into a topic that borders on biomedical (where my professional expertise is) and sports (where I am a complete amateur) is twofold: this year, I have read about my friend's onset of asthma on her blog and on one occasion witnessed her to suffer a sudden onset of asthma symptoms while on a mountain bike ride, and the other reason is a recent experiment with my own allergies, more on that later.
I should warn all potential readers that I will describe my own personal experiences that may or may not apply to others, so take this study with n=1 subjects as such. I will also connect certain phenomena based solely on my own experiences without making any attempts to imply causation, just suggest a correlation, but even that may be wrong.
OK, so with the disclaimer out of the way, I will give you a summary of my own allergies and asthma.
- No childhood history of allergies or asthma
- No family history of allergies or asthma
- Smoked cigarettes from age 15 to ~ 30
- Diagnosed with severe asthma at age 23 after multiple bronchitis infections while working under stress and long hours on my thesis in an academic lab severely contaminated with S. aureus and being a parent while finishing school
- Heavy inoculation of nasal airways and sinuses with S. aureus nasal polyps found a few years later
- Couple of polyp surgeries, couple of hospitalizations for asthma attacks
- One 911 call after turning blue at 3AM
- Taking various medication, nothing seemed to work
- A radical polyp surgery in 1996 and started to use a preventative steroid inhaler daily
So I would say, until then (about 1997-1998) my allergies and asthma were out of control. I should also say that until then, I did not do any aerobic sport activities, some recreational bicycling, regular gym workouts but zero running.
I started mountain biking more seriously around 1999-2000 and even ended up racing the Sports category in the New England series. Around 2004, on my friend's advice, I bought a road bike as a means of training for MTB and started to do longer rides, eventually metric centuries. In those years, my nasal polyps were so bad that I breathed through my mouth mostly and suffered hours of excruciating pain during each longer flight due to inability of Eustachian tubes (blocked by polyps) to equilibrate middle ear pressure. I also started to have some numbness and weird sensations along the left cheek where one branch of trigeminal nerve was.
After moving to California in 2007, I started to ride a lot more - of course, great weather year around and many new places to explore on both road and mountain bike. I also suffered a bad middle ear infection (never had those as a kid) and ended up with ear drum perforation which did not want to heal. After couple of years, one more botched polyp surgery, countless treatments with antibiotics and prednisone, my sinuses and left ear were horribly chronically inflamed and I lost more than 50% hearing in my left ear. Those were also years when I logged in about 3000 road miles and 1000 mountain bike miles a year. My road rides were almost all over three hours and 45 miles, more regularly like 80+ miles and 5-6 hours long. I did some multi-day MTB races (2008 MTB Himachal, 2010 Beskidy trophy, 2011 BC Bike Race) and was generally in great biking shape, especially weeks after completing another prednisone run.
OK, so here is my first observation that links biking and allergies: with absolute regularity, the third day after my long road bike rides, my sinuses swelled, left Eustachian tube got "glued", middle ear infection followed and thanks to my ear drum perforation, effusion prevented any build up in the middle ear. This cycle repeated countless times for me to get convinced that there was a correlation. A correlation with what though? Aerobic activity on a bike? Bent down position on a road bike? Drinking sports drinks in large doses? Muscle and tissue inflammation due to hard efforts? Immune system suppression due to hard efforts? Multi-hour exposure and inhalation of airborne allergens? All of the above? The problem is that as a single study subject and without controlling for all the other variables, one person can never scientifically prove causation. Today, I do everything in my power to control allergies, I do not ride longer than 4 hours and only mountain bike and commute on bike, and I am trouble free.
Almost. Which brings me to the second part of my story: I told a friend recently that I have not been drinking any wine for more than 20 years since I was allergic to sulfites. A long time ago, I went to anaphylaxis after drinking couple of glasses of white wine, and also almost went anaphylactic during a hike in Death valley, after eating some dried fruit at a Las Vegas breakfast buffet. So for many years, I avoided wine, dried fruits and sauerkraut. This friend of mine is an engineer and scientist and he felt sorry for me. Next time we met, he brought me several articles about sulfite content in wine, and a nice bottle of dry red wine, 2007 vintage. One of the articles can be found here, but I was most surprised by the graph showing SO2 content in wine (in ppm) compared to other foods.