cold avenger pro review

I subscribe to about 5 different things that are like Groupon or TeamBuy [so, yes, two of those, plus three or more]. One day, one of them was proclaiming its sale of cold weather face masks. Good idea, internet! My face can not freeze maybe and I can maybe proceed to not continue wrapping very long scarves around my face in a ridiculous fashion as I have been doing since circa Winter 2008.

Except, then I realized the problem with why I don’t wear such items and instead use scarves ridiculously is because they look kind of ridiculous and water just freezes to your face and then you end up cold anyways. My bigger issue is breathing in cold weather, and the issue with these masks is that I invariably end up fogging up my glasses or something and then can’t see, and can’t really get home or indoors or anywhere to be able to see without removing the scarf and then that does not solve my “cold air is among my worst asthma triggers” problem, right?

Enter ColdAvenger.

“If you can’t breathe, you can’t play.”

—ColdAvenger 

Okay yeah, that’s a hell of a slogan there, especially for this Canuck, right?
Then I read about the science behind the mask. Because, let’s be honest here… the black version of the mask looks kind of Darth-vader-esque, and as a 23-year-old-girl who frequently wears pink and purple outerwear, I’m not sure that Darth Vader is the look I’m going for.
Except I’m not into sounding like Vader, either, and we’ve already got enough Darth Vader asthma memes, right?
And so on.
Anyways, I reached out to the cool people at Cold Avenger, told them a bit of my story and offered to review on my blog, and they offered to send me out a media package to try out the Cold Avenger myself. Phil was awesome to deal with, friendly and personable, and—get this—I e-mailed my request in, and had a response within ten minutes. So, clearly their customer care isn’t lacking! Phil and I discussed what I intended to use the mask for, and he decided that the Cold Avenger Pro half mask was the better bet for me, “Just in case you start jumping out of planes with your new ability to breathe in cold weather.”
That’s what I’m talking about!

So, in avoidance of looking like Darth Vader (though very confident in my overall level of badassmatic!) I opted for the white “SnowHunter” version of the Cold Avenger Pro half mask, which arrived in my mailbox from Missoula, Montana little more than a week later.
Except it was still October then so clearly I did not yet need the mask […fortunately. I do live in Winnipeg, after all].
So I tried it out a few times last week once the hardcore chill hit, and damn, I am okay looking the part of a super hero/villain/whatever I am not up on my superheroes really for the way this thing works.
The science (more technical version here): Breathe in cold air to the mask. Cold air enters through vented part up front (which is adjustable—so if you need a higher level of ventilation to accommodate for increased respiratory rates due to activity, you can rock that, but if it’s super windy and too much air is being pushed in, you can make the gaps smaller/fewer and thus allow less air to be forced into the mask.) The very (flexible material) that protrudes out over the nose and mouth also catches the moisture/warmth of the air that gets exhaled, so that the next time air is inhaled, it mixes with some warm particles and… viola, no more breathing in crazy cold air!
A bit of a user-end primer on how the valve system works: if I’m doing something of low intensity, like walking to the bus except straight into a north wind, I’ve got the internal bit adjusted to let less air in at me because my respiratory rate isn’t that high and because more air is already being pushed into the mask. [Science, I tell you. Diffusion is where it’s at.] Keeps the air going into the body warmer and thus, the Cold Avenger team argues that it keeps you warmer by doing so—pretty cool, right?
So… Does it work?
 (Note: I’ve since found it is much better to run my earphones UNDER the mask. Also, on this 10 minute walk to the bus, ice crystals formed on my earphone wires just because of how it was hanging by the mask. Easily rectified by running the wires along the side of my face—and, proof of how cold it actually was outside?)
First thing’s first, you’ll see the gap where my earphone wire goes in on the right side—rectified, as stated above, but this was the culprit for the glasses fogging I experienced. The Cold Avenger, for ski goggle wearers and glasses wearers alike, comes with a nose wire so that it can be adjusted to seal more completely around the face.  This picture is from day 1 of Cold Avenger use. By day 2, I had the kinks worked out with the earphones and my hair and everything (the toque’s real use this day was actually because my hair kept sliding around outside the mask, and into my eyes/face and whatnot, so the toque’s sole purpose was actually keeping my hair back ;).
My asthma is really triggered by cold air (yes, I know, Canadian problems much?). Within five minutes of being outside in weather like it was on day 1 of using the Cold Avenger (-10*C, or -18*C with the windchill)—or even milder sometimes—I’m usually at the very least coughing, or feeling some degree of breathing discomfort. WITH the Cold Avenger? I didn’t cough at all until I got to the bus stop (8 minutes into being outside, walking fairly briskly). In fact, while the Cold Avenger people say [and I won’t dispute them, just an observation!] you’ll be warmer in the mask, I actually think I felt colder simply because I wasn’t hyperfocused on my breathing being crappy! So, hey, if I’m going to feel a bit colder because I can breathe!? I can deal with that, guys.
I’ve had a few friends ask (unprovoked even!) about the mask, and I’ve had nothing but good things to say—I mean, of course with the occasional joke included about being a superhero, how could I not?! I can’t wait to find some ice and try it out while skating or playing hockey outdoors with my friends, because if it can make those things more enjoyable, then I will be excited—and, as Phil discussed, if I find some planes to go winter skydiving out of, then hey, I’m ready for that, too! While I used to sometimes have to pre-medicate with Ventolin before even going outside briefly, I hope the Cold Avenger brings me back to a place where I can simply pre-medicate for exercise outdoors like normal instead of for simply going outdoors!
While I got this thing for free to review, now that I’ve tried it and experienced how it works with my asthma, I definitely think it would be worth shelling out the $60 for if you live in a place like I do where it’s cold for up to half the year and have cold induced asthma, or simply do a lot of activities outside and are looking for a solution that doesn’t restrict your ability to breathe or cause ice to form on your face like many alternatives (the crazy scarf wrap, for example) do. Plus, as you can see, I highly recommend upping your badass quotient and rocking some coordinating sunglasses with the Cold Avenger, too.
…Because I’d say that goes with the badassery of avenging, no?
Disclosure: I reached out to Phil at Cold Avenger who agreed to send out a mask and a kit containing information and stickers (!!!) for free for me to review. I offered to do the review in my initial message, but was under no obligation to provide a favourable review (but, they know their product, so clearly they knew they’d win me over :]). 
edit 5:34 pm 11/24/14: Kat pointed out that I meant diffusion and not osmosis up there. She is correct.

find me at “anonymous asthma”!

Head on over to my friend Olivia’s blog to check out my guest post/interview from this weekend, where I share a bit about my asthma story and perspective on asthma, what I do with the Asthma Society of Canada/National Asthma Patient Alliance and the Canadian Severe Asthma Network, and living positively with asthma.

Olive lives with asthma and is involved with Asthma UK and shares her stories through her blog, as well as on Instagram. Thanks for having me share my thoughts, Olive!

they can DO this–i can LEARN this.

On Sunday, I sat a table in Perkins in Minneapolis with my friends Scott and Heather, engaged in the flow of conversation over grilled cheese sandwiches—the usual flow of topics with a few twists: exercise, coaching (in the life-coaching sense!), and diabetes. In the past, I’ve had conversations with my friend Bethany in which mid-sentence in a Starbucks [or elsewhere] she’s kind of stopped and said “Are you getting this?” to which I just nodded and said “Yep, keep going.”

“It’s just so crazy you know all this stuff about diabetes and you don’t even have it!” She replied.

A few years ago, I found myself surrounded within the Diabetes Online Community [or DOC]. And since then, I’ve learned a lot about what life with diabetes—no matter what type—can look like. Because not everybody with type 1 has the experience as another type 1. Not everyone with type 2 has the same experience as somebody else with type 2. And, mixing elements of both T1 and T2 are those with LADA—or type 1.5, and their stories will look extremely variable, too.

As Scott and Heather discussed Nightscout/CGM in the Cloud (how very smart/techy people with diabetes or caring for people with diabetes have managed to connect their Dexcom continuous glucose monitors through smartphones to upload their glucose data to the cloud, and from there, can load data remotely—ie. a parent can watch their child’s blood sugar levels from their desk while the kid is at school, the data can be streamed to a Pebble smartwatch to allow less-conspicuous access to BG levels, or a variety of other possibilities to allow even more of a safety net than CGM currently provides).

(Graphic source: DiabetesMine)

Scott had given me the CGM in the Cloud tour in August (so I arrived at Dana’s DIYPS talk at Medicine-X I was a bit more clued in than I had been previously!), also over grilled cheese, and while I’d heard about the system over Facebook, it was even cooler to see in person as he slid his Dexcom over and handed me his Pebble to see it first-hand. Dexcom has only recently become available in Canada (both standalone and integrated with the Animas Vibe insulin pump), and I shared this with Heather and Scott… along with the slightly amusing fact that I constantly have Animas Vibe ads on the side of my Facebook page because of all of the diabetes talk that goes on within my Facebook feed.

The reason, though, that I have so many friends with diabetes is perhaps because of diabetes, but more because many people with diabetes care about something much larger than their own story: they care about making the story of others better. I joined a Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (#dsma) chat on Twitter one night several years ago (and several more after that) and people were really enthusiastic about my non-diabetic self joining the conversation because I wanted to learn. The DOC has, in turn, become my support. They were the people who were constantly reaching out when I was in the ER for blood transfusions, or are the ones who reach out when I say my asthma is sucking—just as I do when someone tweets an out-of-range blood sugar, or shoot an iMessage off to a friend just to check in when they’re struggling with their diabetes. They are a big, passionate and loving community, and that is because of the individuals that are a part of it: they see the bigger picture, and they want to make the bigger picture BETTER.

In my day to day life, yes, maybe diabetes is just a passing thought when one of my few local friends quickly checks their blood sugar or takes an injection at lunch—but it’s also knowing enough that I can provide a bit of empathy and humour. One day at dinner, a friend tried to check his blood sugar under the table and I just laughed and said “Hey, I know what you’re doing, it doesn’t bother me if you use the table, you know.” If asthma has taught me one thing, it’s that we all try to be stealthy with our disease management sometimes, and often it’s more for the sake of not being asked questions than it is we truly want to hide what we’re doing—later that night, though, the same friend did text me his BG (we were, after all, at Olive Garden :]), and I hope that my openness can be a layer of support for him if he ever wants it.

In living with any chronic disease, it’s about feeling like you have options (even if, maybe, they are pseudo-options because they are necessary): to choose who you talk to—because I don’t have diabetes, on occasion friends with diabetes will message me because I don’t have diabetes but have a very basic understanding of what they’re talking about; to change up your routine; to use different methods of treatment. Using a continuous glucose monitor is one of those options—because while the information can be extremely helpful, it’s also a constant reminder of where you’re at and can lead to data overload. Same with using an insulin pump for those who are insulin dependent: it increases flexibility in some ways versus injecting insulin, but it also means that 24/7 you are tethered to a small machine or have an insulin pod stuck to your body. Which leads to the choice aspect: my friend Bethany (above) has had T1D for over 30 years. The last time we had lunch, she pulled out an insulin pen and I was like “HEY. Since when are you not pumping?!” (She laughed and was like “Wow, it has awhile since we’ve seen each other, hasn’t it?!”)

Where am I going with all of this?

My friends with diabetes have no choice about having diabetes—they make the choice to do their best, to advocate, to change their world and the worlds of others with diabetes though support, technology innovation, and compassion. Diabetes is 24/7, in a far different nature than asthma is: with diabetes, the same hormone that is provided through injections or pumping, insulin, to save a person’s life can also be lethal—diabetes is a constant balancing act. It is psychologically invasive in a different way than my own chronic disease is. None of us have a choice, but we can learn how to best support one another. If I can provide the kind of support that says “Yes, I want you to be healthy. I want to support you as I can, as a person without diabetes—I’m here to accept where you’re at and listen. I want better things to be available. I care.this is what I want.

Read that last sentence over and simply take out the segment that reads “as a person without diabetes”—shouldn’t this be how we all interact with each other? By learning about where someone is at, and accepting them in that moment?

My friends with diabetes can DO THIS. They can manage their diabetes with the tools they have. And because they can DO this, the ins and outs of life with diabetes, I can certainly LEARN this: a few small lessons about their worlds that hopefully make them feel supported in the way we all want to be. Even if at some times that just looks like a non-diabetes conversation for a break, or having some snacks on hand and waiting out low blood sugars with my friends.

Because that’s the most important part: we are here for each other, because we’re friends.

To my friends with diabetes: Thank you for everything you’ve taught me—I owe you all a hug! :]

#ascNAPA webinar: flu and asthma

A few months back, Dia and I began collaborating with the staff at the Asthma Society of Canada [ASC] to build a new resource for patients in the form of educational webinars. As flu season begins to take hold (Flu shot? Check? I hope so!) we decided that the flu and how that whole situation can be far more complicated with asthma, and other chronic diseases, was a good topic for our first go at a webinar!

Prepare for flu season by joining NAPA and ASC’s webinar session on Influenza and Asthma! Thursday November 18th at 12:00pm EST.
Register today at http://bit.ly/ASCFluWebinar

Dr. Shelly McNeil (Dalhousie) is lined up among the presenters, and you can learn more—and register!—at the link above. I hope you’ll join us and engage in better managing your asthma, or helping to protect someone with this disease, during flu season!