Community Member Spotlight: S. Reid
Living with asthma has been a real rollercoaster journey for Facebook community member, S. Reid. Living in tropical Jamaica where research across all disciplines is limited, asthma research is no exception. We conducted an interview with S. Reid to learn about her diagnosis and how living in the Caribbean has affected her asthma.
Our interview with S. Reid
When and how were you diagnosed with asthma?
I was informed that I had asthma while attending college in 1992 after having a severe chest cold at the age of 21 and had to seek medical treatment. Two years prior when Jamaica experienced a cooler than normal December, I recalled hearing a wheezing sound from my chest. My dad who occasionally experienced asthma symptoms provided me with some Ventolin tablets which alleviated my symptoms. I never thought much of it until I started experiencing more severe symptoms in 1992. Since that time I have been on various asthma medications.
How has your asthma control been over the years?
Over the years, I have had a number of attacks some more severe than others. One was the summer of 1996 which landed me in hospital. My dad had died the previous March and it was a stressful period for me. I actually spent a week, including my birthday, in the hospital. Since then I have been admitted twice in the early 2000s.
My worst experience with asthma, however, did not have me hospitalized but had me making numerous visits to the Kingston Public Hospital and private doctors. It all started in December 2009 and my asthma symptoms did not get under control until about 5 months later in May 2010. My graduate studies had to be placed on hold and my job was affected too.
The turning point came when my family doctor referred me to a pulmonologist. I did several tests and was placed on a strict regimen including recording the readings on my peak flow meter along with doubling my preventer medication. It was this doctor who told me that my asthma could possibly be more exacerbated by environmental factors which also produce chronic sinusitis. Consequently, I have become a bit more aware of my main triggers.
How has living in the Caribbean impacted your asthma management?
A chief culprit is smoke from backyard burning which is a very common practice in Jamaica, despite it being an illegal practice. On any given day someone will just clean his yard or cut a tree, flowers other plants, and decide to light a fire. Garbage heaps which are often along the roadways are often randomly lit. Often among these items are old tires, small appliances, and Styrofoam products.
The fumes emanating from the fires wreak havoc in the airway. The fire station is sometimes called to put out fires if the location is known, but frequently we suffer in silence. I have resorted to keeping my windows and doors locked. Additionally, the carcasses of road kills are often cremated in gullies or on roadways utilizing old tires and plastic bottles to aid the burning process. I must point out that these practices are more common in inner-city areas sometimes referred to as "ghettoes" as opposed to the more affluent areas. Currently, I reside in one such area.
What do you do to reduce your exposure to asthma triggers?
When these happen I try to stay inside and if I venture outside it’s for short periods. On some occasions the fumes do seep through the cracks and my rooms will smell of smoke. When this occurs I move to other sections of my house. I have reached out to my closest neighbors explaining my illness and for the most part, they have desisted from the burning, however, the fumes sometimes come from unknown sources. Do these methods always work? Definitely not, but it has helped to a great extent.
How has asthma impacted your life? Has it caused any limitations?
Yes, it has. I always have a bag with my rescue inhaler with me. I can’t participate in certain activities like house painting or even attend a barbeque where smoke will be present.
What advice to do you have to others living with asthma?
I would advise asthma sufferers to have a close relationship with their personal doctor. Learn about your triggers so you know what to avoid. Most of all, take one day at a time and pray.
As the intense heat of summer approaches spending more time outside is better but in my immediate environment, I will be exposed to my triggers. Having an air conditioning unit would be great but is more of a luxury, as not only are they expensive, but they use a lot of electricity which too attracts a high cost. With COVID 19, beaches and rivers, despite now being open, are restricted to a certain number of patrons I might only get a few trips in. As the heat of the summer rages on I content myself with moving indoors if I smell smoke utilizing my fans as I continue to survive the challenges of living in Jamaica with asthma.
Have you ever experienced an itchy chin prior to or during asthma attacks?