I’ve had asthma ever since I was born. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have asthma. As a child I think I spent more time in doctors’ offices and hospitals than I did anywhere else because my asthma was so severe. We lived in western Washington State at the time, and everything beautiful made me sick – the rain, the vegetation (all of which led to mold and mildew), the dampness, it all made me very ill. Finally one of my doctors suggested a change in the weather was in order, and we moved to Southern California where I still live. While I’m not free of asthma, I have far less symptoms than I used to have. However, cold days, rain, cigarette smoke, heavy activity (sometimes), and other things are still triggers for my asthma.
You might think that I live a life of solitude. Or that I am not active, that I rarely go outside, or that I’m somehow fragile. It might seem as though I live every waking moment worried about my breathing, or that I constantly take medication. But the truth is – I don’t.
In fact, I have a fairly active life. I garden regularly, in February I finished a half marathon, and I almost never think about my asthma. I took myself off all my medications (although I always carry a rescue inhaler for security and still use a nebulizer when I have a bad episode) and essentially handle my asthma naturally now. How can I do all of this? Because I learned how to cope with and manage my asthma. Here are a few of my tips.
Knowledge is Power
If you don’t know as much as you can know about asthma itself, but more importantly about your asthma, you’re in for a rough ride. I had to learn so much about how the lungs work, what triggers my asthma, what specific things I absolutely had to avoid, and which medications were essential. I learned about natural remedies, tried different herbs (more on that later), and went through much investigation before I figured out exactly what my asthma looks like. Learn as much as you can about your disease, because that knowledge will help you create a plan for treatment and management.
Try Natural Aids
It’s rare nowadays to find a doctor who will even discuss herbal treatments for anything. But my doctor in Washington had told my parents early on that Licorice Root and Echinacea might help my asthma. I may not be able to pull up some convincing scientific study to show you, but I can tell you from years of experience that when I am taking those herbs my asthma is much better. Also, 2,500 milligrams of Vitamin C taken about a half an hour before you work out can significantly improve your lung function and help reduce the effects of exercise on your asthma. I’ve personally tried this and it works for me. Do some research on natural things you can do to help your condition be more manageable and less of a problem.
Don’t be Afraid
I remember many nights as a kid when I would stay awake all night for fear that I would die if I fell asleep. Not when I was feeling fine, of course, but when I was experiencing a serious asthma problem it always made me afraid. I would panic when I couldn’t breathe right. But all that fear ever did was make the problem worse in my own mind and exacerbate the situation. Don’t fear your asthma, work with it. Yes asthma can be a serious thing, but so can driving in a car. Learn as much as you can, keep track of what sets off your symptoms, and do what you can to manage your asthma, but don’t let fear consume you. It’s very, very possible to live with this illness (and sometimes even forget you have it).
Avoid, Control, Prepare
These three steps are my personal method of dealing with asthma. I avoid cigarette smoke like the plague because I know that if I’m around it I’ll be really sick. Fortunately nobody in my family smokes, and I don’t socialize with people who do. I can control certain situations so that my triggers don’t bother me. For instance, if you’re allergic to cats and you want to see a friend who has cats you can politely request to meet that person outdoors instead of in their home. I’ve asked friends to please not wear clothing that has been around cats before when I was younger and much more sensitive to cat hair. And most people will oblige with that. Some things you can’t avoid or control, though, like the weather. When it’s damp and cold (or it’s going to be) I know I have to prepare. I increase the amount of herbal tea I drink (it helps me), I have warm clothes, I wear a scarf, I make sure I have my rescue inhaler if I need it, I fill my prescriptions for nebulizer medications if I think I’ll need it, and so forth. Whatever you can’t avoid or control you can certainly prepare for.
Never Say “Can’t”
I know this is probably a controversial tip to some, but I don’t believe in the word “can’t”. If I listened every time a doctor told me I couldn’t do something, I’d be miserable. Supposedly I can’t run because of my arthritis, but I finished a half marathon earlier this year. I’ve been told I can’t hike outside or be outside when there are high pollen levels, but I know how to manage those symptoms and still enjoy myself. If there is something you really want to do, don’t let someone tell you that you can’t. Find a doctor who will work with you to manage your asthma, not hide from it. I’ve been blessed with with doctors who will say “You want to do this run? Okay, here’s what you should do to prepare.” But I’ve heard stories about doctors who essentially ask their patients to live in an isolation chamber. I don’t believe, in most cases, that is necessary. My childhood was a bit like that because my asthma was so severe, but once we figured out how to manage it and what set it off I had a relatively normal childhood. I made snowmen, I played outside, I went to outdoor science camp, and even when I got sick I knew how to manage and treat it.
I would challenge you to go beyond coping with your asthma and manage it instead. Coping indicates that you’re just getting by without an incident, but I don’t think that’s a happy way to live. Asthmatics can live just as full of a life as anyone else, we just have to plan differently and take a few extra precautions. It’s a disease, but it’s not a disability. Embrace life, fight for your health, and always seek out a doctor who will work with you to establish the best quality of life possible. Always be prepared, but don’t live life in fear. I hope this has helped you in your journey to health.