Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth was diagnosed with asthma in 2004. Since then, she always keeps her bronchodilator inhaler within reach, whether at home or on stage. And she keeps tabs on her dose counter so she knows exactly how much medication remains in her inhaler. Chenoweth spoke with Allergy & Asthma Network recently about how she manages her asthma.
Q: How often do you experience symptoms and what does it feel like?
A: Asthma can be unpredictable. Some days I feel great and don’t experience any symptoms. Other days I find myself unable to catch my breath and experience tightness in my chest. You can imagine the impact not being able to catch your breath has on a singer!
Q: What tends to cause your asthma symptoms to flare?
A: Stress is a huge trigger for me. With my busy schedule, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the projects I have going on at once, which in turn may cause my asthma symptoms to flare. I have to be really smart about recognizing the onset of my symptoms and using my medication when I need it. I learned the hard way that avoiding or ignoring your asthma symptoms is just not the way to go. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take care of yourself and to listen to your body when it’s telling you something is wrong. I have a tendency when I get sick for it to go straight to my chest. Plus, traveling and constant weather changes don’t help.
Q: Have you incorporated lifestyle changes to avoid asthma symptoms?
A: It’s not always an easy task, but I’ve found that reducing my stress levels definitely helps. I also try to ensure I get enough rest whenever possible to help avoid getting sick. Even if I have what seems to be just a minor cold, it really tends to trigger my asthma symptoms.
Q: Is asthma common among singers or performers on Broadway?
A: I’m actually not sure how common asthma is among singers or those in theater, but I hope it’s a small number! Managing asthma as a performer is extremely difficult and certainly there are asthma triggers wherever I go, but it’s definitely possible to be successful in theater even if you’re living with asthma.
Q: Have you ever experienced asthma symptoms during a show? How did you address symptoms at the time?
A: I vividly remember one instance during my career where I found myself unable to catch my breath on stage. In 2012, I was appearing in the Broadway musical, Promises, Promises, when I felt an attack coming on. Unsure of what caused my symptoms to flare, I started to panic and felt tightness in my chest. I did my best to remain calm until I found an opportunity during my performance to sneak off stage to my dressing room where I used my rescue inhaler.
Q: How does asthma impact your preparation for a performance, such as the breath and endurance needed for singing on Broadway?
A: Before each performance, I try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible, to reduce the possibility of my asthma symptoms flaring. I also am always diligent about making sure my medication is nearby at all times in case I need to use it. I’ve been fortunate enough to make it through many performances without my symptoms bothering me, but still ensure I’m prepared in the event asthma strikes when I least expect it.
Q: When you started your doctor’s treatment plan for asthma, how soon did you notice improvement?
A: When I was first diagnosed with asthma, my doctor prescribed a rescue inhaler and said to keep it with me at all times. I remember the first time I felt my asthma symptoms coming on and I used my inhaler – I was shocked at how quickly my symptoms improved. While my asthma is considered moderate, I think having the inhaler puts my mind at ease.
Q: Talk about your involvement with the “Know Your Count” campaign and why it’s so important for patients to keep track of inhaler dosage.
A: For more than a decade, I dealt with asthma in silence. When I was approached by Teva Respiratory to partner with them on an asthma awareness campaign, I thought the timing to share my story with the public felt right. As part of the Know Your Count campaign, we filmed a public service announcement and developed an educational website, www.KnowYourCount.com, in an effort to raise awareness of the seriousness of asthma and educate people living with the disease and their caregivers about the importance of keeping track of the remaining doses in their rescue inhalers. With asthma attacks accounting for nearly two million emergency room visits each year, it’s clear that further education is needed to ensure we can reduce this number in the years to come.
Q: Have you ever had an experience where you’ve run out of “puffs” in your inhaler — and not known it?
A: Before I was prescribed a rescue inhaler with a dose counter, there were many times – more than I care to admit – where I reached for my medicine and I was out. With my busy, always-on-the-go lifestyle, it’s not always easy for me to keep track of how much medicine I have left. That’s why using a medication with a dose counter is so important! It makes it easy for me to track my remaining doses. So whether I’m on stage performing or traveling between shows, I am confident in knowing I have enough medication available when I need it most.
Q: Do you believe dose counters should be on all inhalers?
Absolutely! Since an asthma attack can occur when you least expect it, it’s important that you’re adequately prepared, and that means having enough medication on hand. For me, having the dose counter on my rescue inhaler gives me peace of mind. I carry it with me wherever I go and now, thanks to the dose counter, I always know my count when it comes to how much medication I have left in my inhaler.
Q: What advice or message would you give someone who has asthma or is newly diagnosed?
A: Asthma has the potential to be a life-threatening condition, so I would encourage anyone living with the condition to work closely with their physician to find a treatment plan that works best for them. It’s possible for people with asthma to live healthy and active lives as long as the condition is being safely and properly managed. Just look at me – I’m a prime example of how you can live beyond the condition and continue doing what you love!