Spring Cleaning and Its Affect on My Asthma
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Profile photo of John Bottrell, RRT

Spring is my favorite time of year. I love the smell of spring, the feel of a fresh breeze through the open windows, especially after being cooped up indoors during a long Michigan winter. I love the sound of birds chirping, and the sound of a Detroit Tiger’s game on TV. This inspires me to write stuff like this, and it inspires me to do some spring cleaning.

Sounds normal, hey?

I also have allergic asthma with a severe allergy to dust mites. Not so normal, I bet you agree. This poses it’s own set of problems when it comes to cleaning.

Last spring, for example, I got this bright idea I would take the shop vac into the basement and suck up all the cobwebs scattered along the walls and ceiling. I powered that sucker up and got quite a bit done in just a few minutes when a severe asthma attack hit me.

“What the…!?” was my initial response.

Then I realized how stupid my idea was. As I was sucking up cobwebs with one end of the vacuum, the other end was blowing dust mites into the air. I had one of those lapses in judgment.

Well, not really: I had one of those moments where I forgot I had asthma. 

Can you fault me?   

I had a moment where I felt I was normal. Actually, this was one of those things you should NOT do to control your asthma but probably do anyway. Regardless, I had to quit mid-project and take care of my asthma.

Thankfully, there are some great asthma medicines that allow me to obtain pretty good asthma control. I take Advair and Singulair every day, and these help a lot. However, the fact that some degree of airway inflammation is always present (due to the severity of my disease), coupled with my severe allergy to dust mites, can still result in allergy and asthma attacks.

The trick to spring cleaning with asthma

In my asthma past, I was a lot braver than I am today. In the past, when I was in a cleaning mood, I would just keep going — ignoring any early warning signs and symptoms of asthma — until the project was done. Or, better yet (worse yet) I’d keep going until my asthma attack was so bad I had no choice but to quit. Then I’d rest and treat my asthma. Of course, when I did this, it was harder to treat, and took longer to get my breath back, than my current method of stopping and dealing with it right away.

You see, this is a trick — a good trick — for dealing with asthma. Rather than pushing myself to the limits, I have learned — and smartly so I imagine — to pace myself. The older, more mature version of me, knows better than to be that foolish (other than my vacuum experience, that is). So, over time, I have learned to pace myself. And it does kind of suck (no pun intended).

It is frustrating that I can’t just start and finish projects on the same day. But, when you have asthma, especially if you have allergic asthma (or severe asthma), you just have to learn to pace yourself. I know that when I want to complete projects around my home, such as what I have planned for this spring, I have to pace myself. This means that simple projects may take days, even weeks, and sometimes even months, to complete. Sometimes, because I also work and have kids, projects never get done.

And, yes, it can be frustrating.

Here, I will give you an example. Our house is small. We have our two littlest kids, Myles and Laney, sharing a room. They are getting older now, and have piled up quite a collection of toys. If you have kids yourself, you can just imagine the mess that can accumulate in that small room. We have decided to build a room for our older daughter, Callie, in the basement. In that space, however, are several boxes of junk that need to be sorted through. Two of these boxes contain toys I wanted to sort through. Lord knows that I cannot just throw toys away. If I did that, and I threw away a good toy, they would have my head. So, being the good dad I am, I decide to sort through these toys one by one. And some toys are big, like trucks. But others are small, like Polly Pockets. And there are 300 million of these smaller Polly Pocket type toys for everyone big toy. And, of course, there are another 300 million pieces of other smaller toys. And, yes, I exaggerate a little bit (a lot) here, but I think you get my point: It’s a daunting project no one else wants to take up. So that leaves it up to me — the asthmatic dad. Now, I know that there are dust mites in closets and in boxes. I know there are dust mites under beds and under couches. So I have learned to be careful when I clean in those areas. I know this sounds stupid, but I didn’t expect there to be dust mites on kid’s toys. So, I’m sitting (imagine this) on the basement floor, sorting through toys, putting the ones to keep in this box, the ones to throw away in that box, and the ones to take to Goodwill in that box. And I get less than fifteen minutes into the project and my chest starts to burn.

You see? This is one of my early warning signs.

Okay?

“Quitting” during an activity, for a while, may not bad for someone with asthma

I have to quit. I just walk away. And, usually, that alone solves my problem. If I waited another half hour I would have gotten the project about done, but I would have probably ended up with a severe asthma attack.So, I have learned to just walk away, no matter how far along the project is. I’m hoping to get this job done soon. I want to get Callie into her new room in the basement, and then one of the littles (Myles probably, since the room is painted a boy color) can move into Callie’s old room. You see, because I have to pace myself, phase one is still undone.

When you have a chronic disease like asthma, you don’t let things like this bother you. Instead, you learn to cope; you learn to make adjustments; you learn to pace yourself. I think this is true for just about every asthmatic. We try to live as normal as we can, but there are some things — like spring cleaning — that we can’t do the same way others do. And, yes, sometimes people think we’re lazy — but we really aren’t.

So, these are my personal experiences and lessons learned regarding spring cleaning. This is my experience with spring cleaning and asthma.

What are some of the ways spring cleaning has affected your asthma? Let us know in the comments below.

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