Asthma Sucks

BY ON October 14, 2011

 Elisa BatistaWhen I was growing up in North Miami, the kids with asthma were easily identifiable. They often sat out in P.E. class due to wheezing — this scary, non-stop hissing sound as they were literally sucking air in. Our P.E. coach would coolly and quickly pull out the students’ inhalers from plastic sandwich bags so that they could take a puff on them.

Years later, I thumbed through a friend’s high school yearbook and noticed an in memoriam page for a young attractive Hispanic woman. She died of an asthma attack in her sleep. It was the first time I realized how serious asthma could be, that it could claim a teenager’s life in the middle of the night.

According to numbers cited by Moms Clean Air Force, every day in the United States:

• 40,000 people miss school or work due to asthma.
• 30,000 people have an asthma attack.
• 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma.
• 1,000 people are admitted to the hospital due to asthma.
• 11 people die from asthma.

That’s 4,000 deaths due to asthma each year, and asthma is a “contributing factor” for an additional 7,000 deaths per year.

Recently, I was visiting my sister in a hospital in New Hampshire when her roommate, a young woman with a Dominican Spanish accent, was wheeled in. She was being hospitalized for…asthma.

Asthma causes hospitalizations. Asthma can kill.

All of this was fresh in my mind, as I was prescribed an albuterol inhaler last week. This is my first one in the 34 years I’ve been on this earth.

For a month, I’ve had a cough that alternates between a dry, hacking one and phlegm. They are both awful. Sometimes the coughing is so bad that I feel like I am going to vomit. For conference calls at work, I have to put my phone on mute so that I am not cutting off people with my coughing.

Unlike previous illnesses, I can feel this one in my chest. My doctor hasn’t been able to identify a cause, but she did hear static in my chest. So far, I have had a chest x-ray and have been prescribed a cough syrup with codeine, antibiotics, and an inhaler. With insurance, this cost me over $50, plus a lost day of work. I am a contractor so I don’t get paid for the days I don’t work.

I was nervous about the x-ray because I am the daughter of a smoker and manufacturing worker who brought home all kinds of hazardous chemicals, and I have lived by freeways all my life. Thankfully, the x-ray showed no suspicious dark spots in my lungs.

The antibiotics didn’t work, and I had to stop taking the cough syrup because the codeine was making me woozy. So I am left taking a puff of the inhaler every four hours with very little relief. I am not sure if I am taking it correctly, as I have never done this before. Is it supposed to feel like taking a whiff of hair spray?

Pardon my language, but it has got to suck to do this on a regular basis. As far as I know, I am not an asthmatic. But I am not happy about being sick, having to go to the doctor and having both my exercise routine, work and sleep interrupted by this illness – all which happen to asthma patients often.

Asthma patients who use over-the-counter and inexpensive Primatene Mist (PM) inhalers will have to change their practices. At the beginning of 2012, these inhalers will no longer be available. People will need to ask their doctors for alternatives, and those lacking health insurance will need to consult pharmacists. Paul Billings from the American Lung Association, in a note to the American Thoracic Society, points out there are more effective and safe medicines to treat asthma. If you are using Primatene Mist, follow steps outlined by the American Lung Association to ensure you have the best replacement medicines to keep your asthma in good control.

Many patients who commented at this news site about the new rule were peeved, considering that the Obama Administration also denied an Environmental Protection Agency smog rule that would have done much more to cut down on air pollution and damage to the ozone layer. (The White House, by the way, did not return my phone call and e-mail for comment.)

Maybe he should outlaw air fresheners, household cleaners, bleach, pesticides, herbicides, perfume, nail polish, and hairspray as those products cause the asthma in the first place. – Gail FitzGerald Carollo, University of South Florida

…one with COMMON SENSE would think that dealing with older vehicles that drive around spewing toxic clouds of black smoke — which are highly detrimental to the environment and our health — would take priority over inhalers! BUT, I suspect that “our health” is not really the issue here because people driving pollution generating vehicles would not be forced to spend money at Big Pharma… Just saying. -Victoria L. Buchanan

Uh, we have much much bigger fish to fry than banning little inhalers.– Thomas Scaglione, Orlando, FL

I was caught by the number of people in Florida who commented. As a kid there, I always felt that illnesses – especially the respiratory variety – were compounded by the heat, humidity and air pollution. Yuck.

Asthma is no walk in the park, and sadly, it’s on the rise. It’s time to implement common sense solutions so that we can all breathe a little easier.


TOPICS: Asthma, Economics, Latino Community, Politics, Pollution