Triathletes health

Prevent worse chest infection

Steve (age 34) is a triathlete who takes his training and preparation for this demanding sport seriously. He trains up to 6 times a week and on average spends around 2-3 hours swimming, cycling or running each day.

Steve is a member of RacingTNT Triathlon Team in Sheffield and regularly competes in competitions in his spare time around the UK and supports young people wanting to take up this sport.

Part of the training and competition is to take part in open water swims, usually in lakes or reservoirs. While exhilarating, athletes like Steve can suffer health problems as a result of infections acquired during exposure to these water sources. Everyday bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli exist in nature and under some circumstances, can be contracted by swimmers.

Steve had a history of mild asthma when he was young and no longer needs to take medication for the condition, but has suffered occasional ear and chest infections following other open water swims.

As part of his very strict regime of nutrition and health management for sports, Steve has been tracking his lung function, using the Activ8rlives Peak Flow meter, which measures the capacity and performance of the lungs. There are two parameters measured: rate at which air can be expelled by our lungs and the rate of expiration at the one second point after the blow out into the small reader has started. Together, these parameters can be used to compare the performance of our lungs against average values for our gender, age and weight and can be tracked over time to see how well we are.

By regularly measuring his Peak Flow, Steve identified a significant decrease in function of a fraction under 15% after a recent swim in open water and while he felt well, he was concerned that he may have picked up another chest infection. He was examined by his GP who could not detect any signs of the chest sounds that are usually associated with lung infections, but after reviewing Steve’s self monitored data, was sufficiently concerned to prescribe a course of oral antibiotics. GPs only prescribe antibiotics now in cases where they believe there can be a clear benefit to the patient, because over use has led to resistance in these everyday bacteria.

Following the prescribed course of medication, Steve’s Peak Flow and FEV1 increased and returned to their former values, indicating complete recovery of lung function.

“I have to admit that I was very pleased that my GP listened to me and valued my approach to self monitoring at home,” explained Steve. “While I felt OK, my chest did feel a bit tight but at that stage it was very mild. When I saw the decreased values I was recording at home and tracking on the Activ8rlives website, it gave me the confidence to ask for an examination by my GP and the evidence I shared helped her make what turned out to be a good decision for me. Early treatment with antibiotics rather than just waiting to see how I got on probably prevented a full blown infection developing, which takes months to get over. The summer is a busy time because this is when all of the events are organised and I didn’t want to miss any. When I am competing, I can’t afford to get sick.”