Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Asthma in My Head

Wake up. Some mornings, my brain begins to scan my body—specifically, my lungs. Instinctually. Others, I don’t feel the existence of my lungs; don’t think about my asthma until I see my inhalers on the counter. I take the inhalers. A good morning means 5 puffs of medicine—a not so good one means more. Before I leave the house I scan the weather. If it’s hot or rainy, the humidity. If it’s cold, the windchill. Not much I can do about the weather but it’s nice knowing what to predict. I check my pocket for my inhaler.

I walk to the bus stop, repeatedly glancing at the minutes remaining before my bus’s arrival to regulate my pace. I don’t want to have to try to run—and worse I don’t want to have to run and not make the bus.

On the lookout for triggers

On the bus as with most other places, I constantly but unconsciously scan for triggers. I do this everywhere, subconsciously: The laundry aisle at the supermarket. The soap in public (or other) bathrooms. The smokers hovering outside the doorways. The person who isn’t allowed to smoke their pot inside their hotel room, so the smoke from their now-legal (in Canada) cannabis wafts in through the vents in the car. The giant cloud of smoke filling a street in the south end of the city from leaves burning—once we pass, we briefly open the windows to clear the air. Yes, those last two happened on the same day. I sing in the car, but thanks to the smoke exposure, that joy is cut short.

I arrive home. Despite my inhaler sitting in my pocket the whole time, I finally take two puffs. I wait. This time, I feel better within 10 minutes—it’s not always so quick. My heart rate increases for a while. Normal.

Muting my cough and other asthma symptoms

I hit the mute button on the phone reflexively to avoid blasting the sound of my cough through my headset microphone. It’s a habit now, muting the cough. I barely think about it, but I do it.

I just started a new job, thankful my coworker and I have had to have no awkward discussions about my asthma. Unlike other jobs, I’ve had, while not a policy, there are scent free guidelines at my new workplace. So far, so good.

Avoiding asthma triggers at all costs

I read the labels of products, again and again, making sure I bought the right ones—the fragrance-free conditioner that was elusive for a while; spending too long in the deodorant aisle now that they seemingly discontinued a product I could actually use and happily paid $9 for. Well screw you, thankfully I’ve found a $5 antiperspirant alternative. I check the label of the new dish soap, ensuring that we didn’t accidentally buy lilac again.

The day is over. I’m tired, finally, unwound from an ADHD brain. Yet 3 inhalers and 2 pills need to be taken—technically a nasal spray too which I often forgo. I shouldn’t, but I do. I go to bed, often scanning for an inhaler in reach on my shelf. I rarely need it at night, but it’s a habit to ensure it’s nearby.

My brain is constantly searching for information about my environment, from my lungs. What do I see that could be a problem? How about what I smell? Every day I make a series of unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious choices because of my asthma. Some days I think about asthma less, and some more—what I’ve described is an average, good day. Counted above, there are 20 times I considered my asthma. This doesn’t include anything out of the ordinary, nor does it include every time I subconsciously assess my breathing or pat the right-hand pocket of my jeans for my inhaler.

Asthma isn’t all in my head. But, for certain, it takes up a good chunk of mental energy I’d like to use for other things.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • LinnM
    4 months ago

    Thanks. You pretty much nailed it!

  • Kerri MacKay moderator author
    2 months ago

    As Leon said, I do appreciate this! (Even if it took me a long while to get here!)

    Thanks Linn!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Better late than never, Kerri. Thanks for chiming in here. Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi LinnM and thanks for your post. I’m sure Kerri will be gratified to read your positive impression of the article. We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • TracyLee
    5 months ago

    Kerri, I love your writing style! Your descriptions are so vivid, I feel like I am right there.

    When you wrote “…series of unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious choices…” Yes, that is it exactly. My 4th year of asthma, it feels good now that more of my avoidance strategies are at the semi-conscious stage. The first year, as you wrote, took a lot of mental energy. I described my life as “dodging bullets”.

    My asthma is rated as mild. Albuterol works great for me. But it doesn’t take much of a trigger for me to start coughing up buckets of mucus, and then it is hard to inhale the albuterol. Although the pulmo would be happy to have me try more meds, I’m doing OK on montelukast + a medium dose of a corticosteroid inhaler. To keep from coughing, I describe myself as as being “hyper-vigilant” about avoiding triggers to my “hyper-responsive” lungs. So when you wrote 20 times for an ordinary day – OK, thanks, now I feel less “hyper” and maybe just “vigilant”.

    This is my first hour today:
    Check the count on my indoor particulate counter next to the elliptical in the basement. Increase the speed on the air purifier from medium to high. (Indoor air quality can vary wildly depending on how many and when neighbors start their wood stoves.)

    After the elliptical, upstairs to the kitchen, take another measurement. The count is better than the basement. I turn off that air purifier and turn on the exhaust fan. Check the toaster oven tray for crumbs that could burn. Tap the bread over sink. (Note to self: do NOT sprinkle tops of homemade bread dough with flax seeds.) Start the toast, leave the kitchen and wait a few minutes. Turn off the exhaust fan, take toast into the dining room, check the counter, and turn the purifier on high. (Crumbs must have sneaked under the tray again.)

    There is something sticky on the floor and I don’t want to use the sponge. In the kitchen, I hold my breath and slowwwwly tear off a paper towel. While holding it as far away from me as possible, I gently fold it. Then I can relax, wet it, and wipe up the smudges.

    Now I need to open the door to get the Amazon package that was left last night. I check the AQI on my outdoor particulate counter which updates online every few minutes. I’m going to risk not putting on my mask. I take a big breath, open the door cautiously to do a quick scan for the neighbor’s wandering dogs, grab the package, and slam the door. (A slam is necessary because of the double thick strip insulation that helps the smoke from coming in.)

    Yay, I made it through the first hour of my day!

  • Kerri MacKay moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thanks for your kind words and your own story! It’s interesting to examine how much brain space it all takes up, even if asthma has just become “background noise” to us!

  • Shellzoo
    5 months ago

    My asthma feels like it is in my head and I even sometimes doubt the diagnosis until I have symptoms. When I have symptoms, my asthma becomes very real.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo and thanks for your post. Remember, in the most general of terms, a diagnosis of asthma means your airways are sensitive to different triggers. You can be ‘symptom free’ from time to time, and also for lengthy periods of time. It can make one ‘doubt’ the diagnosis when they have no symptoms and/or their symptoms are well controlled. But, the diagnosis is always there – as can be symptoms when triggers are present. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Poll