Something is off
In the cold Massachusetts Spring of early 1999, I was on yet another soccer team running up and down the fields. I was 8 years old, and this was my third year in a row playing soccer. I loved running up and down the field. The only time I would stop was to kick the ball as hard as I could.
I was running sprints on one particularly cold and windy day when I started coughing. I thought I was coming down with a cold at first. I could tell that something was different about this, though. I felt like there was liquid in my lungs. No matter how deeply I inhaled, I couldn’t catch my breath. Before I knew it, I was wheezing uncontrollably.
Not a one-time thing
Once I regained control, I was quick to get back out on the field. I shrugged it off and didn’t think much of it. The wind and cold didn’t let up as the spring season progressed, though. Looking back, I can see just how this affected my breathing. Coughing fits became the new norm.
One day during soccer practice, I just couldn’t stop coughing. Although the temperature was dropping, there was more to it than a sudden chill. I was fatigued and in pain, so the coach called my mom. I left practice early so that she could take me to the emergency room. The doctor asked me a lot of questions about my breathing, from what symptoms I had and when they were worse.
After taking in the information, he told me I might have asthma. Although my mom had heard of it before, we didn’t know much about it. The doctor was quick to tell my mom that asthma is a common condition and that we shouldn’t be worried. He told us that asthma could develop in kids as young as 3 years old and that it often appeared in kids by age 6.
An official answer
I didn’t get a formal diagnosis until I visited an asthma specialist about a month later. The specialist checked out my breathing with a peak flow meter. This device clued us in to what my lungs were or weren’t doing. It measured how the air flowed from my lungs after I exhaled. It also assessed how quickly I could push air out of my lungs. After a few other tests, the specialist confirmed that I have asthma.
My primary care doctor told me that asthma is a chronic condition that persists over time. He went on to say that, despite this, asthma could be an easily manageable condition. It’s also very common. About 7 percent of American adults have an asthma diagnosis, and 6.3 million, or about 8.6 percent of children, have it.
Learning to live with asthma
When my doctor first diagnosed me with asthma, I started taking the medications he prescribed. He gave me a tablet called Singulair to take once a day. I also had to use a Flovent inhaler twice a day. He prescribed a stronger inhaler containing albuterol for me to use when I was having an attack or dealing with sudden bursts of cold weather.
At first, things went well. I wasn’t always diligent about taking the medication, though. This led to a few visits to the emergency room when I was a kid. As I got older, I was able to settle into the routine. I began having attacks less frequently. When I did have them, they weren’t as severe.
I moved away from strenuous sports and stopped playing soccer. I also started spending less time outside. Instead, I began doing yoga, running on a treadmill, and lifting weights indoors. This new exercise regimen lead to fewer asthma attacks during my teen years.
I went to college in New York City, and I had to learn how to get around in the ever-changing weather. I went through a particularly stressful time during my third year of school. I stopped taking my medications regularly and often dressed improperly for the weather. One time I even wore shorts in 40° weather. Eventually, it all caught up to me.
In November 2011, I started wheezing and coughing out mucus. I started taking my albuterol, but it wasn’t enough. When I consulted my doctor, he gave me a nebulizer. I had to use it to expel excess mucus from my lungs whenever I had a severe asthma attack. I realized that things were starting to get serious, and I got back on track with my medications. Since then, I’ve only had to use the nebulizer in extreme cases.
Living with asthma has empowered me to take better care of my health. I’ve found ways to exercise indoors so that I can still be fit and healthy. Overall, it’s made me more aware of my health, and I’ve forged strong relationships with my primary care doctors.
My support systems
After my doctor formally diagnosed me with asthma, I received quite a bit of support from my family. My mother made sure I took my Singulair tablets and used my Flovent inhaler regularly. She also made sure that I had an albuterol inhaler on hand for every soccer practice or game. My father was diligent about my attire, and he always made sure that I was properly dressed for the constantly fluctuating New England weather. I can’t remember a trip to the ER where they weren’t both by my side.
Still, I felt isolated from my peers when I was growing up. Even though asthma is common, I rarely discussed the problems I experienced with other kids who had asthma.
Now, the asthma community isn’t limited to face-to-face interactions. Several apps, such as AsthmaMD and AsthmaSenseCloud, provide regular support for managing symptoms of asthma. Other websites, such as AsthmaCommunityNetwork.org, provide a discussion forum, blog, and webinars to help guide you through your condition and connect you with others.
Living with asthma now
I’ve been living with asthma for over 17 years now, and I haven’t let it disrupt my day-to-day life. I still workout three or four times per week. I still hike and spend time outdoors. As long as I take my medication, I can navigate my personal and professional lives comfortably.
If you have asthma, it’s important to be consistent. Staying on track with your medication can prevent you from having complications in the long run. Monitoring your symptoms can also help you catch any irregularities as soon they occur.
Living with asthma can be frustrating at times, but it’s possible to live a life with limited interruptions.