I was diagnosed with asthma before my earliest memory. My condition has always been allergy and exercise-induced, but as a child, I didn’t understand asthma very well. I was probably four or five the first time I realized I was having difficulty breathing. My mother forgot my rescue inhaler at home, and I was at my grandmother’s house. I remember sitting on the counter and trying to catch my breath. I wheezed quietly while my mother panicked. Thankfully, my uncle was around and he had the same prescription inhaler as me. They cleaned the mouthpiece, and my mother guided me through the treatment.

“You’ve done this before. When I press the button, you breathe deeply. Then, we’ll do it again. Okay?”

I nodded, without much breath to answer.

“Okay, one...two...three…breathe!”

Within a few minutes my breathing had improved, but my heart was beating quickly. That’s when I first realized the negative symptoms of using my albuterol (salbutamol) inhaler. If you’ve ever had a puff of this life-saving medication, you might have experienced shaking and a rapid heartbeat after using it. It’s a common side effect. Thinking back, it must have scared my mother to see her young child coping with not only the inability to breathe properly, but also the side effects of the medication I needed to live.

Like most children, I got used to it.

Learning to Control My Asthma

Living with an illness puts you in a special mindset from an early age. You must be responsible for your health if you want to go to school and have fun while being safe. For me, that meant going to the office to use my inhaler before gym class, not pushing myself too hard when running, and knowing the signs of an asthma attack.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of an asthma attack can include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Being unable to speak
  • Pain in chest muscles and ribs
  • Acute asthma symptoms not responsive to inhaler

These symptoms are frightening to experience. If any of these red flags appear, the only thing you can do is dial 911 to get emergency treatment.

In order to prevent this from happening, I needed to learn to control my allergy-induced asthma.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology describes allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma, as “the most common form of asthma. Many of the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are the same. However, allergic asthma is triggered by inhaling allergens.”

So, managing the asthma meant managing the allergies. When I was seven years old, I went to see an allergist who conducted a simple skin test that determined what allergens triggered my asthma. My allergies included all the common culprits: mold, dust mites, pollen, cats, and dogs. I did this with the guidance of a physician. My daily management plan throughout my junior high and high school years included the following:

  • Taking a prescribed antihistamine
  • Using an anti-inflammatory nasal spray (as needed)
  • The use of dust barriers on bedding
  • Bathing before bed to rinse allergens off my body and hair
  • Removing anything from the home that triggered my allergies (houseplants, stuffed toys, carpeting, etc.)

These strategies got me through school safely with only a few close calls. By the end of high school, I felt nearly asthma free. Going to college in a big city, however, changed things for me.

How Living in a Big City Affected My Asthma

I was a junior in college when I was standing at a bus stop in the heart of Chicago. As I stood there, huddled next to students and workers sheltering themselves from the wind, I realized I was struggling to breathe. I had not had any breathing issues since high school. I panicked a bit as I searched my backpack for my inhaler. Thankfully, old habits die hard. My inhaler, scuffed from banging against pencil cases and keys, was there. I gave myself two puffs of the medication.

I told myself, “Don’t get lazy. Asthma doesn’t suddenly just disappear.” It’s easy to ignore symptoms and to forget to take your allergy medications when studying for exams.

The next two years of college, I made a point to be extremely careful. I paid close attention to air quality reports in the warmer months. On days when smog was bad, my labored breathing made it hard to walk upstairs or speak in class.

A few years after my graduation, I got pregnant and experienced relief for the first time in my life.

How Pregnancy Affected My Asthma Symptoms

Pregnancy didn’t resolve my asthma, but it did drastically reduce my allergies. About one month into my first pregnancy, I woke up able to breathe better than I ever had before.

Now, this ease of symptoms doesn’t happen for most pregnant women with asthma, but for some reason I felt an incredible relief from my typical allergies. In fact, I felt so good that my husband and I decided to get a dog.

Again, most women won’t have the same experience. Being pregnant with allergies can be difficult. According to the Mayo Clinic, common allergy relievers such as Claritin and Alavert are considered category B drugs. Medications with this classification are tested through animal studies and show that there is no obvious risk to fetuses. However, there are no controlled studies completed on women. Therefore, there may be a risk to the mother and fetus. Experts suggest weighing the risks with the severity of symptoms.

Nine months of being allergy-free continued, and when my first child was born, I still felt great. My respiratory health had never been better. Colds and coughs that used to linger didn’t anymore. One year later, I weaned my son and became pregnant again.

I experienced the same relief with my second pregnancy. However, once I weaned my daughter, my asthma returned.

Asthma After Pregnancy and Beyond: A New Game Plan

I had not been to the doctor to discuss my asthma in nearly 10 years. Sure, I would get my inhaler prescription updated, but no real in-depth conversations took place until my breathing got worse.

It started with an ear infection. An adult with an ear infection? Yes, it can happen, and a few years ago, it did. My daughter and I both got ear infections at the same time. We were miserable. I went to the doctor to discuss my pain. I got my antibiotics, but she wanted to have another conversation.

When she examined me, she found sinus inflammation, nasal polyps, and chest sounds that worried her. I reminded her that I had asthma. She asked me what I had been doing to maintain my asthma and allergies. Looking back, I had to admit to her that I could have been doing more. My old checklist of daily things I should have been doing wasn’t getting done. With two kids to mind, I was lucky to remember to take my allergy pill.

She sat me down and we made a new asthma action plan. My doctor informed me that my health insurance provider now required every patient with asthma to create one. This news was a surprise to me, but going through my management plan with my doctor was exactly what I needed to motivate me to take better care of my lung health. My doctor also gave me ideas on how to get my household clean. Due to a severe allergy to mold commonly found in dirt and plants, I had to remove all my houseplants. I also had to clean all the drapery, bedding, and carpeting.

It took at least a year, but eventually I started feeling normal again. Of course, I still carry my rescue inhaler on me. My life depends on it. 

My Progress With Asthma

Over time, our bodies change and grow. Where we live and the environments we subject our bodies to impact our health as well. For someone struggling with a chronic disease like asthma, there will always be a progression. Sometimes it’s under control, and other times, getting through the day is tough. Thankfully, medical science today makes it easy to find the right treatments to keep us strong. Read more about Asthma here