My Journey to Asthma Diagnosis
It was a sunny early spring day, the birds were chirping the flowers were blooming and I was absolutely feeling miserable. As happy co-eds studied on the quad I sat in my residence hall lounge coughing vigorously with a head of mucus. After much prodding by friends I was finally headed to the student health center to see why I'd been coughing for a few weeks now. I was in my sophomore year of college and had been living life with seasonal allergies for as long as I could remember. Some years I would have a cough to go with the usual allergy fun: itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. I shrugged the cough off as another annoying symptom that might lead to yet another permutation of allergy medications that would leave me with some relief and hopefully not too drowsy.
I met with the nurse practitioner at student health who after taking history and an exam sent me on my way with a script for a albuterol inhaler and instructions to return if I didn't improve. (Spoiler alert: I didn't improve) A few weeks passed, I got some relief from the albuterol, but was using it several times a day to keep my cough at bay. As instructed I headed back to the Student Health Center to follow up. Another meeting with the nurse practitioner landed me a combination steroid and long acting bronchodialator preventative inhaler with instructions to come back if that didn't work and definitely follow up with my primary care doctor back home over the summer. The controller inhaler got my cough under control and me back to the regular college life. Looking back I always wonder why we skipped steroid only inhaler on the step-wise approach to asthma therapy.
I finished out the semester and headed home for summer, and saw my family doctor. After some discussion, we agreed that it was time I saw an allergist. We'd tried letting things run their course for my life up to this point and clearly allergies were here to stay for me. She had run an allergy blood panel the year before on me, I'm very allergic to mold and dust mites. This was not particularly useful information since these are perennial allergens. Up to the first appointment with the allergist no one had said "you have asthma". I had no idea that you could have asthma without wheezing and an Emergency Room worthy exacerbation to begin the journey.
After a long week sans antihistamines I headed off to the allergist. I recounted my history of atopic life full of coughs, sneezes, and random itching. There was allergy prick testing, listening to lungs, and spirometry (who doesn't love to blow out the birthday candles on the computer?). In the end the allergist rather anticlimactically told me I have asthma. A combination of allergy medications and continued combination inhaler was the game plan. It felt good to have a name for the mystery cough. Diagnosis also gave me an excuse to push my limits. I was determined to show asthma who was boss. Did your asthma diagnosis change spark a change in your view on life?
Have you experienced a collapsed lung?