Kayaking with Asthma

5-minute read

When I was growing up I was one of those unfortunate kids who would get sick at the drop of a hat. When I started kindergarten, I developed pneumonia three times in one year. I was hospitalized each time, and my less than stellar immune system prompted my mother to homeschool me for a period of time. Fortunately as I got older, I didn’t get sick as much as I did when I was a child, but I was left with lifelong Asthma. 

Most of the time, my wheezing and shortness of breath is triggered by something such as air freshener, heavy perfumes, or smoke from something as innocent as a campfire. One of my worst attacks came during a trip to Texas. My husband, James and I had flown to San Antonio to see the annual Stock Show and Rodeo. We had walked around the grounds of the show where we had checked out all of the exhibits and food booths. While outside, I walked near a BBQ pit and the smoke was so intense, I had a major Asthma attack and spent the rest of the night wheezing despite using my rescue inhaler multiple times. It was then I realized that smoke was a major trigger for me. Since that trip, I avoid being outside when the neighbors burn leaves, and I always carry my inhaler. I also take daily asthma medication to help keep symptoms and flare ups under control. 

On a recent kayak fishing trip, my husband and I encountered heavy smoke that had filled the area near the ramp where we were set to take our kayaks out at the end of the day. As soon as I saw the smoke hanging in the air, I felt fear rise up in me instantly. I saw the smoky haze just ahead of us when we cleared the last bend.

I looked at James and said, “That’s smoke. I’m in trouble.” I pulled my neck gaiter up over my face, but I could still smell the smoke. I instantly thought about how I had placed an N95 mask in my old PFD. It was at that moment I really wished I had not failed to put my mask in my new Astral V8. The N95 I had carried for moments like this would have helped, and could have made a huge difference in a little wheezing and a full on attack. Almost in a panic, I pulled the top of my AFTCO Samurai hoodie up over my neck gaiter and tucked my face down into my new Astral V8 PFD. I was determined to hold my breath as long as I could and get back to the ramp. I kept telling myself to take shallow breaths, don’t panic (although it was way too late for that), and keep an even pace.

The ramp was finally in reach, and once I landed my kayak, I bounded out on the ramp and started walking toward our truck. I wasn’t sure if I could make it up the long, steep hill to the parking lot. I needed a good breath of air, but I couldn’t remove my neck gaiter or shirt from my face until I finally got inside the truck.

Once inside, I coughed and breathed in much cleaner air. I took a quick hit of my inhaler and then backed the truck and kayak trailer down the ramp where James was working feverishly to get our kayaks ready to be loaded. My husband was my absolute hero that day. He loaded the kayaks on the trailer by himself and put all of our gear in the bed of the truck while I stayed inside. We made it up the ramp to higher ground where the smell of smoke was gone and I helped organize the rest of our equipment before we headed home. 

That whole event was scary. When we got back to our house, I put my old, trusty, N95 mask in my new PFD first thing. I also decided it would be a good idea to have an “Asthma Bag” for when I am in emergency situations on the water. I found a small dry bag and put some items that could be helpful when I have an Asthma attack such as a spare rescue inhaler, and my allergy meds. 

Fortunately, I don’t have severe Asthma attacks often, but when I do, they definitely scare me. I always keep a log of my attacks that I share with my Asthma doctor. We stay on top of treatment options and for the most part, my Asthma is well controlled.

If you are a kayaker who also has Asthma, make sure you have a plan in place, talk with your doctor, and let those who kayak with you know of your health issues. You never know when trouble could strike on the water. 

Be safe out there and happy paddling!