Annual activities highlight changes in my lungs due to IPF
Columnist Charlene Marshall notices her IPF progression during spring cleaning
I have learned a lot about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) over the years. Following my diagnosis in 2016, I read everything I could about this life-threatening lung disease through online forums, research articles, and various websites. My biggest takeaway was that disease progression is nonlinear and looks different for everyone.
My IPF progression has felt slow compared with others, though it’s still brought challenges. I know patients who have experienced a rapid decline and either ended up on the transplant list or unfortunately succumbed to IPF. Not only is the disease’s progression unpredictable, but so is the severity of each person’s symptoms.
Since my diagnosis seven years ago, a lot has changed with my health, and there are things I can no longer do independently. While I’m grateful I can still do many activities on my own, most of them evoke breathlessness.
I tend to notice the breathlessness most when I do something I haven’t done in a while. Here in Canada, spring weather has finally arrived, and after our darkest winter in 80 years, I’m really feeling the need to spend time outside in the sunshine and warmth, which is good for my mental health.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been tidying up my yard to the best of my ability, cleaning out my car, wiping down windows, and getting rid of dust. Completing these chores each spring is rewarding; it feels like a formal passage from one season to the next.
However, these chores become harder to complete as my disease progresses. Some changes are subtle, but others aren’t. Following are some of the things that aggravate my lungs a bit more each spring.
Even for people without IPF, allergies can wreak havoc on respiratory symptoms. An allergist once told me that while similar allergens are released each season, new ones also emerge as the environment changes. Our allergies tend to change over time, too; I’ve certainly noticed a difference in the last few years.
There’s a little tree on my boulevard that has a short bloom each year, and I notice I cough and sneeze more during that time. Additionally, after I had the grass cut for the first time this season, I was congested and far wheezier in the following days. My allergic reactions were substantially worse this spring, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because my lung disease has progressed.
Most IPF patients I’ve spoken to say that their symptoms worsen in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. For me, it’s the humidity that worsens my breathlessness, chest discomfort, and cough.
A little over a month ago, Ontario had some unusually hot temperatures that broke records and the first really humid days of the year. I had to turn on the air conditioning because I was uncomfortable and significantly shorter of breath. Based on this experience, I have a bit of trepidation about the humidity this summer because my tolerance seems lower than in the past.
I’m always grateful for places with a zero-scent policy, as I am sensitive to strong smells. A few weeks ago, I was cleaning my car using the same products I do each year, but my reaction to them felt more intense; I was coughing a lot and my nose was running. Perhaps this was a coincidence, but I did wonder whether my disease progression has increased my sensitivity to certain scents.
This is another irritant that causes respiratory problems for many people, but it’s arguably worse for those with IPF. One spring chore I tackled was sweeping out my garage, where dirt and dust had accumulated under my vehicle. Even with a mask on, this activity was substantially worse for my lungs than it has been in previous years. I had to take several breaks and adjust how hard I was sweeping to try to keep the dust to a minimum and avoid exacerbating my shortness of breath. Following this activity, there was no doubt in my mind that my lungs had a harder time tolerating this year’s spring cleaning.
Do you notice a difference in your lung function while performing annual activities? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.