My story of living with asthma started when I was about seven years old. Up until that point in my life, I had lived an asthma-free life.
Then, for reasons unknown, one day I got my first asthma attack when running up a grassy hillside while taking a walk with my mom and dad at a local park.
I actually can still remember the event fairly clearly, because it was a completely foreign feeling to my body at that point. I remember as I got further up the hill and exerted myself more, I felt a tightness encase my chest area, and a sudden inability to breathe in and expel the air that I was so used to easily processing with my lungs.
As I reached the top of the hill, I remember folding over and holding onto my legs, trying to reposition myself so that I could breathe easier, but the breath just felt like it had been wrung right out of me.
I now realize that this “repositioning” was instinctual for me, and would become a ritual with every subsequent asthma attack after that first one for years to come. I began to wheeze, and when asked what was wrong by my parents, I had no idea how to explain to them what was happening to my body other than the fact that I “couldn’t breathe”.
It just so happened that this was in the spring time, at a time when the pollen counts were high in that area, and this still is the hardest time for me to deal with my asthma today, although I have it well under control now.
So, I was off to the doctor’s office for a checkup soon after that, and was quickly diagnosed with asthma. I was prescribed an inhaler, whose medical name escapes me, although I know it wasn’t the albuterol inhaler that is prescribed so often today, and I remember feeling shaky and nervous after using it with almost every dose.
After that day at the park, my life did change. I suffered from what I’d describe as moderate, short-lived to severe, long lasting asthma attacks on a fairly regular basis.
They seemed to be brought on by physical activity, especially when the air was cold, which limited my winter time activities outdoors, and would definitely be worse during seasons where pollen counts were high. So, needless to say, my asthma medication came with me everywhere I went, because I never could tell when an attack would happen.
I do remember a few severe attacks that would not subside, no matter what was done. My mom would try every trick in the book along with the medication, which seemed to be rendered useless when the attacks were severe.
We would try coffee, supposedly because of the stimulant properties, it would help open the lung’s passages up. I especially hated this home remedy, because as a kid I hated coffee.
We would also try putting me in the bathroom with a steaming hot shower, hoping the hot steam would help my bronchial passages to relax and open up. This one would sometimes help a little, but it never helped my bronchial tubes dilate enough to make me comfortable again.
I remember one particular evening, I had a friend over-night, and probably just due to sheer excitement, I got one of the most severe asthma attacks I had ever experienced. Nothing would work to take the pressure off my chest and restore my breathing to normal, so my mom ended up taking me to the emergency room, where I was given a shot of adrenaline.
Getting that shot was one of the most visceral experiences in my life thus far, and I still remember exactly how it made me feel, even more than twenty years later. Immediately as I felt the needle in my arm, it was as if my body was shocked to life.
My lungs instantaneously opened up, bringing immediate relief to my rigid, sore back and constricted lungs (from trying to breathe, your back does lot of work, and after a serious attack, your back can often be sore), and my body sort of felt like it was going to jump out of it’s skin.
Shots of adrenaline I believe are still used when all else fails in severe asthma attacks, although now, looking back, I do wonder how safe that can be for your heart and your body in general, although if you’re having a severe asthma attack, it literally can be the difference between life and death.
And what are the odds that asthma can actually kill you? While they are slim, and the percentage is relatively low of deaths among those with asthma, there are a few thousand deaths recorded each year here in the US that are caused by asthma. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a few thousand too many, and I’d rather be safe than sorry in controlling my asthma attacks.
This is why it is important to seek immediate medical attention if you have an attack that will not subside on it’s own or even with the use of your usual medication.
It is probably not a good idea to self medicate for asthma, and I’ve actually heard that over the counter medications for asthma can many times do more harm than good in the long run because of the types of stimulants that are used in them, so it’s imperative that if you have asthma, you see a doctor, and have a medical prescription for when you need it.
Other than that, common sense should be followed as far as your personal asthma triggers. Avoid foods that you think may cause an attack. For me, I believe that excessive dairy products and excessive sugar consumption aggravates my asthma, so I avoid it.
As you grow and your body changes, your triggers may change as well. Stay attuned to what these triggers are. Take notice of when you have an attack, and try to correlate that to an activity, food, or environmental condition, and you should be able to avoid asthma attacks and prevent them from happening in the first place.