As we have learned in our 4 years since the diagnosis of VCD, it is not easy to swim competitively with VCD.  One of the main methods of controlling VCD, diaphragmatic breathing, is not easy to practice while sprinting a 50m free.  Neither is inhaling through your nose while swimming, let alone on dry land when you have bad allergies to boot. Most of the literature paints a fairly rosy picture of VCD as being a self-limiting disorder; that is, once you learn you have it, you can learn to control it and overcome it. However, this has not proved to be the case with my girl, as she was a very young age 10 when VCD was first diagnosed.

Here is our story:

The event was Girls 10 and Under 400m long course freestyle. It wasn’t going well and it wasn’t pretty. My girl was breathing every stroke from the first 50m. When she finally climbed out of the pool, she was greeted by the unwelcome sound of consolation applause. She laid on the deck for a minute to catch her breath. Afterward, she described not being able to breathe and panicking. She said it was the worst she had ever felt during a race. So, off to the pediatrician we went. Diagnosis: exercise induced asthma. Prescription: Advair and Albuterol inhaler.

Things were OK for a while at this point, and then cold and flu season hit. Game over. Kidlet caught a cold that became a sinus infection that never went away. Breathing while swimming became impossible, even with all the asthma meds. Off to the ENT. They did a CAT scan and skin prick test for allergies. Diagnosis: non-allergic rhinitis, chronic sinus infection. Prescription: antibiotics, allergy meds.

Still unable to keep up in swim practice or breathe at swim meets, we took Kidlet to an allergy and asthma specialist. They did a spirometry test. It was really unusual looking. Both inspiratory and expiratory curves looked flat, but she did not have asthma. We were referred to a local teaching hospital. A broncoscopy did not show any blockage. Diagnosis: VCD. Prescription: Speech therapy, stop all asthma meds.

Speech therapy was interesting. Lots of diaphragm breathing, sipping air, breathing through a straw, and special stretches to relax the neck and larynx. The VCD and sinus issues seemed to get better for a while. Good enough, in fact, to allow for a stellar performance at the long course state championship meet in the summer of Kidlet’s 12 year that earned her a spot on the Zone team.

Unfortunately, these 12 year old best times continued to be her best times through age 13 and 14. The sinus infections became chronic, with 12 infections in 2 years. We went to a new ENT. They did a different allergy test- one that used multiple injections of ever-increasing doses of about 20 different allergens to determine allergies. Diagnosis: mildly allergic to ALMOST EVERYTHING. Treatment: Allergy shots.

And the VCD continued.  For another year.  More speech therapy, this time in a pool.  VCD was and is occurring and is still unstoppable and unpredictable.

Where are we now?  We have pulled out all the stops, and are moving forward in every way we know to fight VCD and allergies and sinus infections. Most important is to control the sinus infections by controlling the allergies. We are continuing the allergy shots at the ENT. We have torn out all the carpet in our house. We installed a new HVAC system in the house with HEPA filters, dust mite covers in the bedrooms, and we keep the dog downstairs. We have shutters on the windows instead of blinds or curtains. We took the stuffed animals out of the bedroom.  We sealed our crawl space. We removed the moldy pine straw mulch from around the gardens and replaced it with cedar bark. We are going back to the pulmonary specialist at some point for more help with peak flow and retest for asthma.

We are working on daily VCD breathing exercises.  We are seeing a sports psychologist and trying biofeedback.  We are talking to therapists. We are one step short of going to National Jewish Hospital in Denver, the VCD experts. But we may end up at NHJ at some point in this journey.