I suffer from asthma. It’s just one of the many things going on with me, and often the most overlooked, set aside and least worried about because it’s generally under control here. The only time I notice it is when I get sick or when my allergies are actively bothering me. However, during a recent visit to the allergist for something else entirely, I was given a breathing test to measure what my average was and found out that I was having issues that I wouldn’t have been aware of. The doctor prescribed an inhaler to take for two weeks that would help open my airways. This reminded me that sometimes, for an asthmatic, trouble is not always obvious.
In recent years there has been more awareness shed on the danger of unchecked asthma, especially during the month of September. So much so, that two weeks in September, considered the deadliest for asthmatics, has garnered the name Peak Week- because of the many asthma attacks and many sudden deaths caused by asthma attacks. This has, in turn, shined a light on asthma as a stealthy killer for people and children who think they have their asthma under control. But has it brought enough attention throughout the rest of the year? While it’s great to have a light shined down on a silent killer during the month of September and those deadly two weeks, could we be doing more?
According to the CDC, the total number of asthmatics in 2017 was somewhere around 25, 191. This divided into 6, 182 for children under the age of 18 and 19, 009 for adults over the age of 18. Out of these numbers, 11.7 per cent are below the poverty level which, as you can imagine, this would directly influence their ability to access care for their asthma and the regular medication needed to treat it, or their children. It’s frightening, as someone living with asthma, to live without proper care or needing to ration your puffs because you don’t know when you might be able to afford the next inhaler. Worse yet, is debating whether or not the wheezing you are feeling constitutes a trip to the ER, or if it will just pass. But I’ve been there, and my only saving grace is that I didn’t know then what I know now and how close I may have come to dying because I was neglecting myself. The sad thing is, some adults and children are dying not only because they may not have access to healthcare, but because they are ignoring the warning signs that their asthma is giving them to take care of themselves. Because the thing about asthma is that you won’t get a second chance if you’ve procrastinated. CDC
The following are some lesser common symptoms people may have just prior to an asthma attack, that if addressed, may lessen the severity of an asthma attack.
- Yawning or lots of sighing: Asthmatics and people with respiratory illnesses will do this, often without realising it. It’s a way to get more oxygen into the body and on the flip side carbon dioxide out.
- Chronic dry cough: Sometimes this is a symptom, and for some, this is their only asthma symptom.
- Fast breathing and hyperventilation: Asthmatics tend to have faster than normal breathing when having a flare-up even in the early stages before the symptoms are obvious. It’s your body’s way of getting more oxygen in and ventilating better.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired more than usual shouldn’t sound strange when you think about it. Your body is working hard to keep the body oxygenated when the lungs are inflamed. So, while you aren’t yet feeling the effects of the asthma attack, you are feeling what the effect is having on your body.
- Difficulty Sleeping: Your body is going through stress. It’s preparing to have an asthma attack. This can result in disruptive sleep, which can result in fatigue.
- Anxiety and difficulty concentrating: Feeling anxious can come from the lack of oxygen and can also affect concentration. Not being able to breath makes us feel anxious as well.
- Itchy chin: Some people experience an itchy chin and throat before an asthma flare-up. This is generally associated with allergic asthma but not always.
Four Unusual Asthma Triggers
- Aspirin: About 20 per cent of adults with asthma are sensitive to and have symptoms when they take aspirin, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). Every Day Health
- Food Additives: Food preservatives, food colourings, and flavouring agents have been found to cause asthma attacks in some people, so make sure to read food labels. Sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite are all potential triggers. Every Day Health
- Air Fresheners/Scented Candles: We all want our house or car to smell nice, but for asthmatics, it may be doing more harm than good. The ACAAI notes. “We know that the fragrances from air fresheners trigger allergy symptoms or aggravate existing allergies in a lot of people,” Dr. Tuck says. Perfume and flower scents are particularly likely to irritate sensitive airways, according to the results of research by a Swedish team published in the January 2016 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Health Research
- Remodeling or Paining: Remodeling or painting in the home can stir up dust mites, pollen, and other contaminants in the home, worsening symptoms. Additionally, the chemicals in products individual’s use for the remodel such as glues, paints, sealants, and varnishes could have volatile organic compounds in the chemical makeup, which can irritate breathing. There are, thankfully, versions of these products available today that provide low volatile organic compounds. Individuals should look for products certified as asthma & allergy friendly if they want to minimize potential reactions. Health Prep