Growing Up With Asthma In The 1970s And 1980s: Part 1
Last updated: September 2022
Mom says I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 2 years old. So, that means I was diagnosed in 1972, which means this year marks my 50th anniversary of living with this disease. So, in honor of my anniversary, I have decided to talk about my own asthma and what I have learned from it. Some of what I am about to write I have never shared with anyone before this post. So, here goes.
Growing up with asthma in the 1970s and 1980s
- So, mom says I was diagnosed when I was two years old. This was in 1972. She said that before my diagnosis I was always breathing heavily and was constantly suffering from colds. This means I probably had asthma long before I was diagnosed.
- I grew up with four brothers. Between my brothers and my mom and dad, I was the only one who had asthma when I was growing up. So I was the lone asthmatic in my home. I was also the lone asthmatic on both mom's and dad's sides of the family. There was one person with asthma like me, although I did not meet her until I was 15 years old. I will talk about that more in part 2.
- When I was around 5 years old, I have memories of me standing in the front seat, and mom’s right arm was my seat belt. Mom said she did this because my heavy breathing bothered my older brother. She did this to protect me from him. (Today, we recommend real seat belts and not mom's arms. But, back then we did not think about stuff like that).
- I have vague memories of asthma attacks before the age of ten, but I do know that they did occur. Often, they occurred secondary to allergy attacks that caused my nose to become stuffy and my eyes to itch like crazy.
- I remember getting severe asthma attacks when I was playing in the basement with my brothers. So I quickly learned that this was not a good place for me to play. Although, sometimes I did it anyway and often paid the price. In retrospect, it was probably mold spores and dust mites in the basement that triggered my asthma.
- One reason I did it anyway is because I would forget I had asthma. This happens because between asthma attacks you might feel normal. So, sometimes you get brave and feel like you can do normal things. Eventually, I realized that the best way to prevent asthma attacks was to avoid participating in activities I knew would put me at risk of inhaling my asthma triggers. This was both no fun and hard to do for a kid who just wanted to be normal.
- So, up to this point, it was by trial and error that I learned what my asthma triggers were.
- During the 1970s, mom gave me a gross-tasting medicine called Tedral. This helped me to breathe easier. Tedral contained theophylline, a bronchodilator.
- When I was ten years old I had my first skin-prick allergy test. I remember my back itching very badly. And the doctor said it was itching so badly because I was allergic to nearly everything he put on my back. Now I knew for sure what allergens triggered my asthma and allergy symptoms.
- Between 1980 and 1985 I was given a weekly allergy shot. The hope was that this would help control my allergies and asthma. Unfortunately, they did not work.
- By 1981 my doctor told me I could take a pill instead of that nasty tasting Tedral medicine. In order to take a pill I had to learn how to swallow pills. I learned fast. The pill he prescribed was Theovent. It contained theophylline.
- Sometimes I consider it amazing that my doctor never prescribed me a rescue inhaler until 1980. I am not sure why that was. But, during an office visit in 1980, my doctor introduced me to a white rescue inhaler called Alupent. I was told I could use it to reverse asthma attacks every 4-6 hours as needed.
- It did not take me long to become an Alupent abuser, like many other people with asthma, in that era. I soon started using it whenever I felt short of breath, which was usually more often than the prescribed frequency.
- I did talk to my doctor about this once. He said that using my rescue inhaler too often was better than the alternative. I assumed the alternative he was referring to was death. So, he knew I was abusing my rescue inhaler and this would explain why he rarely said anything to me about it. Keep in mind this was before our great modern asthma controller medicines.
- By 1981, mom and dad were frequently taking me to the ER for asthma attacks.
- A doctor once asked me what season was my worse. I said, "All of them."
- Interestingly I never told any ER nurse or doctor how often I was using my Alupent. I did not say anything because I was afraid of what they might say. Also, in my mind I figured they had a test so they could determine how much Alupent you took. Later on, I learned that such a test did not exist.
- When I was 14 years old I was admitted to the ER 18 times for asthma. I was admitted to the hospital for at least six days, four times. Yes, I was that bad. My doctors had no clue what to do for me. This is according to records my mom kept.
- By December of 1984, my doctors wanted to fly me via helicopter to an asthma hospital in Denver.
Part two coming soon
In a future post I will explain what happened next. So, stay tuned!
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