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Images courtesy of Theresa Cannizzaro

I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 8 years old. In my early 20s, my asthma moved into the severe category. I’m now 37, so I’ve been living with severe asthma for over 10 years.

I’ve also been a respiratory therapist since 2004. This was a very easy career choice to make, as asthma management and education are near and dear to me. It has become my life’s passion to advocate for others like me.

Here’s a look into my life with severe asthma.

I take several daily medications to help keep my asthma under control. I adhere to my asthma action plan that my doctor and I outlined together.

An asthma action plan is a piece of paper that includes the regular asthma medications I need to take and when to take them. It also outlines when to seek medical attention when my asthma starts flaring up.

In addition, it shows different zones of peak flow measurements according to my personal best number. This is the highest peak flow I can blow on a good day.

I track my peak flow numbers and keep an asthma journal. I’ll write down things like:

  • my daily peak flow numbers
  • how I’m feeling that day
  • whether I needed to use my rescue inhaler or nebulizer
  • any other pertinent information like the air quality or prominent allergens that day

I’ll then bring my journal with me to my pulmonologist appointments every 3 months to review and see if my action plan needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Having good communication with my medical team is key. I’m able to message my doctor for advice whenever I need it. This helps often, especially when my asthma starts to act up.

I’m a planner. I like to plan ahead for things and make sure that I’m prepared for whatever I may encounter throughout my day.

As asthmatics, we always have to be prepared for potential triggers that we may come into contact with. I always have my rescue inhaler, my face mask, and sometimes even my small portable nebulizer in my purse.

In 2015, I had bronchial thermoplasty.

This is a series of 3 separate procedures that uses therapeutic radiofrequency on your airway walls via a bronchoscope under general anesthesia. It reduces the amount of smooth muscle, which people with asthma have an excess amount of.

Bronchial thermoplasty made a huge improvement to my asthma and quality of life. However, I’m still in the severe category.

Being an asthmatic and a respiratory therapist comes with its own set of challenges. I have to be extra careful about what I come into contact with at the hospital, especially as of late.

Wearing a mask (which is almost always a N95) can make it more difficult to breathe. But it’s essential to protect my vulnerable lungs because we don’t know what kind of situation will roll through the doors to the emergency room at any given time.

I’m not afraid to speak up and let my coworkers know when I need to take a break or use my inhaler or nebulizer. If I don’t take care of myself, I cannot take care of others.

I’m able to relate to the people I take care of in the hospital because I can hold their hand and tell them that I know exactly what they’re feeling.

My house isn’t a typical home. Three years ago, my husband and I, along with our 3 children, moved across the country after we purchased a 20,000 square foot 1926 former Freemason Temple.

We’re living inside the building while performing a massive renovation project.

Renovating any space, no matter the size, can be worrisome for a person with asthma. I have to take extra precautions and stay out of certain rooms or floors depending on the type of work that’s being done.

We have to set up extra ventilation for the areas we’re working on. In addition, there are certain projects that I’m unable to help out with.

We’re also working to make our living space asthma-friendly. This includes removing carpet, changing air filters often, regular vacuuming and dusting, and so on.

In addition to the renovations, moving to the Midwest from the coast really threw my lungs for a loop.

My body had to learn to adjust and adapt to an entirely new climate, new allergies, and having all 4 seasons (that I love!), which was a first for me.

Having severe asthma doesn’t stop me from living my best life as much as I’m able to.

I take all of my prescribed medications and stay aware and prepared for any potential triggers I may encounter.

Lungs are my life and my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else!


In addition to being a respiratory therapist and renovating her home, Theresa also enjoys spending time with her husband and children. She’s a musician who plays guitar and leads worship at her local church. Her passion for asthma advocacy goes beyond the bedside. She’s also a freelance writer and medical contributor and consultant for several different medical sites. Find her on Instagram and follow her home renovation project here.