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Asthma 101: What You Need to Know and Facts About Asthma

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with asthma. It was after a long weekend away at a high-ropes camp with my youth group, where I spent the entire weekend struggling to breathe through coughing. Cough drops didn’t work, cool air made it worse, and my chaperons didn’t know to take me to the emergency room. Even I knew very few facts about asthma, despite growing up in a home with an asthmatic father and older brother.

My mother’s nurse ears recognized my barking, mildly productive cough the moment I walked through the door. Just hours later, a peak flow meter test and a positive response to albuterol proved that yes, I was asthmatic. My doctor showed me how to use a rescue inhaler, how to use a nebulizer (breathing treatment machine) and somberly explained that asthma was a chronic condition, which meant it was for life with no cure. I remember brushing it off in my mind. It was no big deal. Plenty of my friends had it as young kids when they played soccer. I’d be fine.

17 years later, I’ve faced down several emergency room visits and countless hours spent on a breathing machine. I’ve had thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth) from my oral steroids too many times to count and almost every sinus infection has turned into an asthmatic event. I’ve had moments of frustration where I’ve cried through breathing treatments that it wasn’t fair, that I wanted new lungs.

Unfortunately, new lungs aren’t in the cards. At 30, I’ve finally accepted that daily medicine and a watchful eye are the rest of my life. I may never run a marathon, but I can take care of the lungs that I have and help spread asthma education:

  • What is asthma? 1 of 11
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    The World Health Organization defines asthma as "an inflammatory disease of the small airways of the lung...characterized by intermittent airway narrowing and airflow obstruction that leads to symptoms of wheeze and shortness of breath." The shortness of breath or "tight" feeling is caused by constriction of the airways plus the secretion of mucus. 

     source: Mayo Clinic

  • What are the symptoms? 2 of 11
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    Symptoms vary with each person. My father and brother are both asthmatics who "wheeze", which means you can hear a "whistle" when they breath in and out as the air squeezes through their constricted windpipes. I'm a cough asthmatic, which means I cough...and cough..and cough. I rarely wheeze so an asthma attack looks like a violent cough that will not stop. Both types feel an extreme tightening in the chest and a panic-inducing inability to properly breathe.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • It’s not about getting oxygen in, it’s about getting C02 out. 3 of 11
    571f816638f811e2998822000a1fbc5d_7

    The most common misconception is that asthmatics can't get enough oxygen. This is completely false - asthmatics can't get the C02 OUT of their system thanks to airway restriction. This is why an oxygen test may read 92% during a deadly asthma attack, something that hospitals and doctors often misread.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • It’s a chronic disease. 4 of 11
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    This means that asthma is for life. The good news is that asthma isn't the same severity for everyone, which means that while some people may struggle to breathe their entire lives, some are only mildly inconvenienced during exercise or allergy season.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • Asthma is (mostly) genetic. 5 of 11
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    While environmental factors are involved, most asthmatics are victim of their genes. I got it from my father, who got it from his father, who got it from his mother, etc. Five asthma gene or gene complexes have been identified by the World Health Organization.

  • It feels like drowning. 6 of 11
    8b30b2c0544d11e28c4722000a9f1966_7

    The shortness of breath or "tight" feeling is caused by constriction of the airways plus the secretion of mucus. When I'm in the middle of an attack, it feels like I am drowning. I can't breathe out properly and I can feel the mucus pooling in my lungs. When medicine begins to work, I begin coughing out the mucus. It's a really gross disease when you think about it.

    source: Mayo Clinic

     

  • The common cold can be uncommonly dangerous. 7 of 11
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    A common cold can escalate quickly into a sinus infection. Post-nasal drip (yuck!) means gunk running into my lungs, clogging them up, and causing constriction. What normal lungs view as a Mucinex-worthy nuisance can mean an ER trip for an asthmatic.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • What to do during an attack. 8 of 11
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    STAY CALM. The more aggravated you get, the worse your asthma can get. If your rescue inhaler isn't working, then use the nebulizer. If that doesn't work, do not hesitate to get to the ER. If you have no medicine available, make yourself vomit and drink hot coffee while you drive to the ER. Asthma attacks are serious and deadly if not treated.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • Natural remedies for emergencies. 9 of 11
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    If an asthmatic finds himself without medication during an attack, the most effective thing to do is vomit, which raises adrenaline and opens the airways. Caffeine (aka coffee) also has the same effect and warm drinks help relax the muscles and the person. 

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • Know your triggers. 10 of 11
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    For some people, asthma is triggered by seasonal changes, certain flowers or weeds, even the air quality or moisture in the air. For others, it is dust and pet dander. For some, it is only exercise.

    The important thing is to understand your own asthma.

    source: Mayo Clinic

  • Daily steroids are the greatest invention ever. 11 of 11
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    Many asthmatics take daily lung steroids in addition to rescue inhalers. The steroids help keep the airways open and in tip-top shape. While they require long-term use to be effective, there is little danger to using them long-term. Asthmatics should also monitor their lungs with peak flow meters, which measure the amount of CO2 expelled from the lungs. By knowing her "best blow," an asthmatic can tell when her lungs are too tight and treat accordingly.

    source: Mayo Clinic

*Please note that I AM NOT A DOCTOR. This is based on how I live with asthma. Please see your healthcare provider for asthma treatment.

 

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Beth Anne writes words and takes pictures at Okay, BA! You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Article Posted 2 years Ago
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