Swimming Induced Pulmonary Oedema
I said I’d tell you how my wetsuit tried to kill me. It’s a cautionary tale, but one that shouldn’t stop you participating in open water swims – just learn from my inadvertent mistakes!
A swimming journey
It started out like this
I might look worried but I was cruising along in an open-air heated pool at the Beccles tri, head out of the water, cheerily completing a mere 16 lengths. Then, the multi-tasker made me sign up to an open water swim. I had to buy a wetsuit. They are sold by weight; not height or hip circumference. I should have smelled a rat at this stage!
Off we went to Fritton Lake to practice. Lovely wetsuit kept me very warm. Lovely wetsuit made me extraordinarily buoyant. I splashed about and felt lovely swimming in a lake in the summer watching herons take off from the bank. But by the end of the session I felt a bit wheezy and duly ignored it. Next session, I wheezed early in and had to stop. I noticed pollen floating on the surface of the water and in the breeze so I self-diagnosed hay fever. Next session I was armed with nasal spray, antihistamine and asthma inhaler. It was a dull day with soft summer rain and no pollen. I didn’t wheeze. Job done, I thought. Fritton lake triathlon on a cool day – tick, done, no wheeze. Norwich triathlon on another cool day – tick, done, no wheeze.
Then it was the Aldeburgh triathlon and a 1km “with tide” sea swim. Luckily (as it turned out) it was a team event, so I only had to do the swim. I inhalered, I antihistamined, I figured it was the sea so there wouldn’t be any pollen. I had a big fat arrogant head and pride goes before a fall!
I cycled down to Aldeburgh as a warm up and also because I felt a bit cheated I wasn’t going to bike and run after my swim. I hydrated after that. I walked 500m down the beach “half-in” my wetsuit. I gamely participated in my now fully-on wetsuit in the beachside warm-up which involved air-squats and other undignified things I normally only do in the privacy of the pain cave.
I launched myself into the sea on the gun and the tide, literally, ripped me down stream, I barely had to swim, just bob up & down & keep my head above water. A man next to me turned onto his back signalling that he was clearly in trouble, I hailed the safety kayak for him & swam blithely on, feeling fatally smug.
At 500m I felt a ruttle in my lower trachea. I’d had that before, stupidly, I think I started to swim faster. I think my twisted logic was – get out of the water faster and the ruttle won’t progress to a wheeze and you can get to your inhaler faster. It got worse. It was a wheeze, a noisy angry wheeze. A kindly kayaker paddled alongside me to the shore which I made in 14m:51s (I normally swim 1km in 30 minutes in the pool!) I legged it up to transition ripping off my wetsuit and then realised I was really quite wheezy in a “you need a nebuliser” sort of a way. Oh the joy of the St. John’s ambulance. Oh the hilarious coincidence of finding one of my ex-students was head of the crew. (at least she’d had good teaching…..)
After finding my oxygen levels were low enough to require supplemental oxygen administration and a nebuliser they listened to my chest again. The wheeze had gone, unmasking the real problem – crackles signalling pulmonary oedema – or “fluid in the lungs”.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to go to hospital, being a smug fat-headed arrogant twit, so I just went off to enjoy the rest of the day. I did consent (with some arm twisting) to a lift home rather than biking. Then later I read these articles:
And I was a bit chastened – a too tight wetsuit, overhydrating and warming-up on the beach in the compressive wetsuit had all conspired to push fluid into my lungs. There’s no treatment, just oxygen, get the wetsuit off and wait 24-48 hours for it to go away. But I am amused & cheered by this little gem (although it’s not quite enough evidence for me to go out and buy those little blue pills……….)