Reflections of an Asthmatic

By: Erin Rose Hennessy

I am currently in a three-week struggle with my insurance company because they refuse to cover much of the highly expensive and much needed asthma medication, Dulera. As an asthmatic, this is a necessary medication and a cause of great stress for me lately. Because writing is such a great stress reliever, I thought I’d write about it!

Air is often taken for granted. When you breathe in, air fills your lungs and sends oxygenated blood to your heart, brain and the rest of your body. You are then able to walk around, talk with your friends, read a book, or solve a complex math problem.

Asthma makes me see the world differently.

In a person with asthma, tiny tubes in the lungs called bronchioles swell, constrict, and can fill with mucus. This reduces the size of the airway and makes it hard to breathe. I have heard this described as the feeling of trying to draw in a breath with an elephant sitting on your chest or trying to breathe through a drinking straw. I can relate.

Asthmatics can seem completely normal until they are exposed to one of their triggers that causes them to have an asthma attack. Asthma attacks can also be called asthma episodes or flare-ups. Triggers can vary and may include things like dust, mold, pollen, exercise, pet hair, cold weather, cigarette smoke, and respiratory illnesses.

When an asthmatic is triggered, the most obvious short-term symptom is struggling to take a deep breath. Other symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, and uncomfortable chest sensations. Mood can change and an asthmatic may be more irritable and cranky. Wouldn’t you be if you couldn’t get air to your brain cells? They may also have trouble sleeping and wake through the night coughing and wheezing.

Thankfully, asthma is fairly easily treated. There are two basic classes of medications for asthmatics. One is the most widely recognized in society – the asthmatic’s inhaler. Often misunderstood and used as a way to poke fun at smart,
“nerdy” television characters, the inhaler is actually meant as a “rescue medication.” As you can probably guess, “rescue” basically means it is to be used at the time of an asthma attack. Rescue inhalers are not meant to treat asthma long-term. This is one of the misconceptions I see on television where the poor “nerdy” character, usually a child, is puffing away at his inhaler like it is some sort of aerosol beverage. In real life, if an asthmatic is using their inhaler that much, it’s time to call 911 or go to the ER.

A long-term maintenance medication is what is used to treat asthma and to help ease flare-ups when exposed to a trigger. These medications include inhaled corticosteroids like Advair and Dulera. Long-term medications are not used when an asthmatic is having an attack. That would be like grabbing a garden hose to put out a forest fire.

According to the Mayo Clinic, asthma is a very common lung disease that affects approximately 3 million Americans each year. (www.mayoclinic.org) Seeing how common asthma is, here are some of my suggestions on how to help someone you know who has asthma.

-Make an effort to know your friend or loved one’s asthma triggers. You can help to avoid them.
-Ask them questions about their asthma.
-Ask them questions about how they are feeling if you notice any of the aforementioned asthma symptoms.
-If your friend or loved one is having an asthma attack: DO NOT freak out! If you get agitated, excited, and panicky, they will. This will make the asthma attack worse.
-Allow them to sit down and create a calming, quiet environment. Speak in a soft voice. Ask them where their rescue inhaler is and offer to go get it if they are not already using it.
-Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them.

My own asthma is triggered by cold air, exercise (although less than it used to be), cigarette smoke, seasonal allergies, and respiratory infections. I also have noticed an almost psychosomatic effect in triggering asthma. If I know I have my inhaler, I am less likely to have an asthma flare-up. If I have an “oh crap, I forgot my inhaler at home” moment, I am much more likely to begin to panic and make a flare-up worse.

I am not, thank goodness, triggered by my own four-legged furball. The only thing I have to do with my cat, Soleil, is make sure I wash my hands after petting him and certainly before eating after we’ve played!

One of the most frustrating moments for me during this battle with my insurance company was on Easter morning. My family, including my 5-year-old and 23-month-old nephews, was playing freeze tag in the backyard. Normally on a long-term asthma medication, I am able to run and play without any problems. On Easter morning, however, coughing and wheezing forced me to cut my play short. I’d had enough and I forked over a small fortune just so I could breathe again. I should have my pouting nephews talk to the insurance company!

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