Many unicorns with lungs, each with unique colors and patterns to their hair and backgrounds

Asthma Affects Each of Us Differently

Back in 1985, I spent time in an asthma hospital. One day I attended a class about asthma. The attendees were me and about eight other teenage asthmatics. At one point the teacher instructed each of us to list our early warning symptoms. He said, “Some of these symptoms you may all share. Yet each of you may have some asthma symptoms unique to you.”

We kids laughed at that thought. “How could my symptoms be different from yours?” My friend Sean said. Yes, after we listed our symptoms, we saw that what he said was true. For instance, I was the only one to list an itchy chin as an early warning symptom.

That was my first experience with: “Asthma is unique to each of us. We all experience it in unique ways.”

Why is our asthma so unique?

I think modern researchers have some viable theories explaining this phenomenon. They have now discovered over 100 asthma genes. And each asthmatic has a random assortment of these genes.

This may explain why we all experience this disease in unique ways. It may explain why my friend Todd had mild asthma growing up. He used his rescue inhaler sometimes. He didn’t need to take daily controller medicine. Yet my asthma was severe and uncontrolled despite taking asthma controller medicines every day.

My friend Todd, to the best of my knowledge, managed his asthma on his own at home. Sure, he may have seen a doctor from time to time. Of course, that’s how he got his prescription for his rescue inhaler. But I have no memory of him needing the services of an emergency room. And I’m certain he was never admitted to a hospital.

Me, on the other hand, it was so bad I made many unscheduled doctor visits and trips to the ER. I was admitted to the hospital many times, and all because of my poorly controlled asthma. And ultimately I was admitted to the asthma hospital. It was here I met many kids with bad asthma just like me. And yet, we all experienced it in unique ways.

My friends and their asthma

My friend Willie told me about his home situation. He said there was a lot of stress in his home. His parents were alcoholics and he lived with his aunt. So his trigger may have been stress.

My friend Paul was an overweight asthmatic. His doctors thought this contributed to his asthma severity. And when he lost weight his asthma got much better. Sure there were probably other things going on with his asthma. Yet that’s what I remember about Paul’s asthma.

My friend Sarah had food allergies. She had to do a food elimination test. Over time she learned what foods she was allergic to, and learning what they were helped her to eliminate them from her diet. And her asthma control improved.

I was told I have some food allergies. Yet they didn’t bother me enough to eliminate. I was very thankful I didn’t share that trigger with Sarah.

My friend Gary had gastrointestinal reflux (GERD). As a treatment, he had to put the head of his bed up on blocks. This helped to prevent his stomach contents from moving up his esophagus as he slept, thereby triggering his asthma. I was thankful I did not have that.

So, we all experience asthma in unique ways

And there are so many other ways asthma is unique from one asthmatic to the other. Some of us have mild asthma. Some have moderate or severe. Some of us, like myself, develop it in childhood. Others will not be diagnosed until adulthood.

Researchers say that those with childhood-onset asthma are more likely to have allergic asthma like me. Yet that, of course, is not always true. They say those with adult-onset asthma are more likely to have non-allergic or severe asthma. Yet that is not always true either. I have another friend who had childhood-onset asthma, and his asthma is quite severe.

Today, researchers are wise to many different asthma subgroups. So, my doctor has diagnosed me with allergic asthma. I would guess that's what Sarah has. And Gary may be diagnosed with GERD asthma. This may also explain this weird phenomenon.

So, we have weird diseases. We can create hypotheses to explain this phenomenon. I suggested a few here. Yet there are so many more hypotheses. Researchers are working hard to explain it, yet it may be a while yet before we fully understand it.

What do you think? What is unique about your asthma? Please share in the comments below.

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