I just inhaled a bug on my ride. What should I do?

There are two types of cyclists, one who has swallowed a bug while riding and the other who will swallow a bug while riding; every cyclist I know has swallowed a bug at some point in their cycling exploits. It’s just a matter of time. The problem is that there are two ways the bug can go, into the food pipe or down the windpipe. A bug down the food pipe isn’t that bad. Maybe just a yucky moment. But a bug entering the windpipe can be a different deal.

It is the thing you are least expecting during a ride. Imagine you are breathing, your mouth is wide open, and suddenly you feel an object deep in your chest. For this to happen, the bug has to be the right size, at the right place, and at the right time. The first reaction is usually reflexive, violent coughing, which immediately expels the bug from the windpipe. Assuming this happens, all usually turns out well, and your chest is mildly sore. But say the critter goes a little farther and becomes stuck. You will experience continued violent coughing followed by chest tightness, similar to an asthma attack. This occurs because the tissues in the windpipe and lungs are super sensitive to things that are not supposed to be there. The critter is stuck deep in the matrix of your lungs and undoubtedly dead by this time.

But what happens next is that your immune system mounts an inflammatory response to the bug in the lung tissue. This explains why you can have continued “asthma-like” symptoms. Thus, it may be necessary to control the asthma-like symptoms with a medication that will decrease the inflammation and keep the airways open. These symptoms may last days but usually dissipate in 24 hours. If they persist longer, see your doctor. When the symptoms persist, it means that a type of scar tissue has formed called a granuloma, and it may need to be removed. Be reassured these cases are rare.

Finally, if the bug swallowed is a bee, and you are allergic to bees, seek treatment immediately; go straight to an urgent care or emergency room. The symptoms will appear much more rapidly than if the bee had stung your skin because there is much more blood flow.

Remember, you will have a bug experience, it is just a matter of time, but at least you know what to do in case. Here are bits of Advice, be lucky, don’t smile while riding, and breathe through your nose.

If you have any training questions for the Doc, hit us up at: [email protected]

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