woman surrounded by exhaust, pollen, perfume

Facing The Unknown: Heading Right Back Into Asthma Trigger-Land

Seven years ago I moved from Washington, DC to the San Francisco Bay Area in California. At the time I moved, my asthma and allergies were very poorly controlled. I was on a combo medication, an additional inhaled corticosteroid, weekly allergy shots, and quick-relief medication. I also was experiencing vocal chord dysfunction and was hoarse all of the time. It was miserable.

Moving to California was a welcome change

When I was offered a promotion with my company in California, I jumped at the chance. Just a few weeks earlier I visited San Francisco and was able to breathe so easily. I was so excited that I was able to climb Nob Hill without trouble breathing.

After my first year in California, my asthma was controlled well enough that I completely stopped taking my daily medication. My allergies were controlled with just a nasal spray, and I was even able to adopt a dog.

It wasn't all perfect - I did have a few episodes due to the occasional sinus infection or cold. But overall, I was loving living in California and the freedom I felt from having well-controlled asthma.

Then I received a phone call asking if I was interested in a new job--but not just any job--my dream job. The catch? The job is located back in DC. I accepted the position, but I have some concerns that my asthma may worsen again.

Possible asthma triggers

What exactly caused my asthma to be so uncontrolled while I was living in DC? And will those triggers bother me again? I came up with a list of possible asthma triggers:

  • The office. After being in the office for 30 minutes or so, my vocal chord dysfunction would kick in. I would lose my voice and start to have trouble breathing. I was convinced that there was something in the building that was triggering my asthma. but it was hard to pinpoint. My coworkers often wore perfume and cologne (even though it was against the fragrance-free policy) or had fresh flowers on their desks, both known triggers.
  • My apartment. Although I can't name any particular thing(s) in my apartment that triggered my asthma, it is certainly plausible it was part of the problem. The bathroom ceiling leaked a few times, causing mold. The previous renter had a cat, which I am extremely allergic to. Cat dander sticks to the walls and cabinetry and is hard to completely remove.
  • The weather.Humidity is just unbearable for me, and DC has plenty of that. Cold also hurts my lungs, and DC can get pretty cold.
  • Pollution. I walked to work when I previously lived in DC. I loved it - a 20-minute walk each way was a great way to start and end my workday. However, as I walked to my office on Pennsylvania Avenue, the buses and their exhaust would often trigger my asthma.
  • Public transportation. When I couldn't walk to where I needed to be, I took public transportation--mainly the subway. The subway was always hot and steamy and had all kinds of smells. I often had trouble breathing on the subway.
  • Stress. A busy job with lots of deadlines and two critically ill family members certainly took a toll on my stress level. It was hard to sleep and concentrate during the day.

New asthma triggers are possible

Whenever my environments change, I get nervous. My new apartment may be a trove of triggers, including people smoking outside the building, overpowering cooking smells, or leftover cat dander from a previous renter. A new office brings coworkers wearing personal care products and carpets full of dust mites.

I'm taking a leap of faith. I'm willing to face the unknown and cross my fingers that my asthma will remain well-controlled for this new career opportunity.

How about you? Would you stay or move? Share in the comments below!

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