How a recent flare brought one patient back to a sometimes scary reality and what she does now if her asthma flares up again.
By Allie Bahn
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to exhale. My heart was pounding in my chest, the vibrations crippling my body with exhaustion.
“Stay calm,” I told myself.
When it comes to managing my asthma and allergies, I usually feel no anxiety. But when I experience an asthma flare, it ignites a fear that typically stays dormant. Every single breath is like my lungs are bench-pressing 150 pounds. When it continues for hours with only short spurts of relief from a quick-relief inhaler, my chest aches with each breath and my whole body feels weak and exhausted. It’s a helpless feeling.
During an asthma flare, I am keenly aware of how much work my lungs go through just to keep me alive. A scary, suffocating panic fogs my mind in these moments.
From 2010 to 2016, my asthma was extremely well controlled. I didn’t even think about it. I did not take any asthma medication in that time, other than my quick-relief inhaler before long runs as a preventive measure or the occasional times when I was around my friends’ dogs or cats, which can trigger my asthma and environmental allergies. I even spent three years living in Italy, where I felt great.
Then, last year, I spent two weeks living out of a hotel while work was done on my home. Before moving in, I asked the hotel manager for a pet-free room and was told that would not be a problem.
The first night, my breathing was normal, but I woke up feeling tightness in my chest. I used my quick-relief inhaler and felt fine all day at work. Back at the hotel that night, I was fine but again I woke up in the morning with chest tightness. I decided to keep the windows open at night for fresh air, hoping that would help my nighttime breathing and my lungs, but symptoms worsened each day. I slept terribly each night, waking up multiple times. My exhaustion grew, but I was still in denial about my symptoms. I continued to just use my quick-relief inhaler as treatment.
Midway through my second week in the hotel, I woke up barely able to breathe. I had forgotten how scary it
was – I hadn’t felt that way in many years. In that moment of fear and frustration, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was at a loss.
No Longer In Denial
The next morning, I called my allergist. I finally admitted to myself my symptoms were past the point of just using a quick-relief inhaler. I needed medication to help bring my symptoms back to baseline. My allergist prescribed a mild inhaled corticosteroid to reduce inflammation; it helped me sleep better but my chest still felt like it was being squeezed.
I called my allergist again a couple days later. He prescribed prednisone, a stronger oral corticosteroid. I was reluctant to take prednisone because in the past the drug’s side effects made me edgy and restless, but this time I knew I had no choice.
As I took prednisone, I monitored my breathing with a peak flow meter and soon I started to feel closer to my baseline. Even after leaving the hotel, it took about a month until I felt back to normal. Now a year after the asthma flare, I’m fully recovered with no extra medications needed.
What I Learned…
It’s easy to forget how scary asthma can be when it’s well controlled for years at a time.
My takeaway: Even if your asthma is well controlled, it’s important to recognize when you’re experiencing symptoms and seek treatment immediately. I don’t want my symptoms to ever get to a point where I need to go on an oral corticosteroid.
In the future, if a similar flare occurs, my goal is to face any denial head-on and call my allergist immediately. Asthma can be frightening, but with awareness, I know I can maintain it effectively – and live and breathe exhaustion-free.
Allie Bahn is a licensed elementary school teacher. In addition to asthma, she has life-threatening food allergies and environmental allergies. She blogs at missallergicreactor.com.