I am one of the 25 million adults in the United States who live with asthma. It has been a decades long experience, and over the years I have learned and used various ways to cope with this potentially debilitating or even fatal condition. What follows are the symptoms of chronic asthma and some tips to live well with it.
Symptoms of Chronic Asthma
-wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing in and out.
-rapid heart rate
-shortness of breath and a heavy or tight feeling in the chest
-coughing, especially in the early morning hours (or for other people, at night)
-nervousness or anxiety
While I have symptoms of asthma daily, I have only experienced the severe symptoms of an acute attack a handful of times. The last episode occurred when I had bronchitis, and I went to my doctor immediately for treatment of the wheezing which was audible to other people and for sternal retractions, a pulling in of the chest at the top ad bottom of my breast bone. He prescribed an in-office treatment of nebulized albuterol (liquid bronchodilator inhaled as a fine mist) and sent me home with antibiotics and a 5-day course of oral steroids to reduce the lung inflammation caused by the infection. This experience only reinforced the necessity of following these good asthma care practices:
1. I take my medicine daily as prescribed and get vaccinations.
I use an inhaled combination of a bronchodilator and corticosteroid every day to reduce the inflammation in my lungs. I keep my “rescue” inhaler, Albuterol, handy for sudden flare-ups. My doctor recommends a yearly flu vaccine, and although I am not in the senior age group, I received a pneumonia vaccine last year.
2. I measure my lung function
When sick with a cold (rare these days), I monitor my lung function with a peak flow meter. It tells me how much air I exhale, and my doctor and I know my normal peak flow rate for comparison. If the number starts dropping, from a “green” to “yellow” or worse, “red” zone, I need to call my physician. Many asthmatics need to watch their number routinely.
3. I know, avoid or reduce things in the environment which trigger my symptoms.
For example, I vacuum some areas of my house every day to reduce dust and pet dander. Yes, I do have animals, but I also know that I cannot own a Golden Retriever or go horseback riding as they produce serious respiratory symptoms. I avoid scented dish and laundry soap and do without liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets. Perfume, air fresheners and being around wood fires or cigarette smoke (of course!) are no-nos. Children and adults really benefit by learning what things aggravate their asthma and then staying away from them.
4. I exercise.
While exercise can induce asthma symptoms, overall it improves asthma because it controls weight (Obesity contributes to asthma according to the American Lung Association) and opens up airways. I start my work out slowly, gradually adjusting to the activity. I feel my lungs relax as the exercise goes on. Also, I work out indoors which avoids pollen, road dust and exhaust fumes. Many asthmatics remain completely indoors on days when there is a respiratory alert, and pollen counts or pollution are higher than usual.
5. I stay hydrated.
While I may not hit that 8 glasses of water each day, I try to drink as much as I can. Experts at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology maintain that adequate hydration boosts pulmonary function and reduces the aggravating histamines which allergens create.
Overall, I think I have learned to live well with my asthma and to respect it for what it is. As with any health issue, compliance with a good action plan and communication about the issue with family, friends and doctor are key to coping for the long term.