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How Trauma and Asthma are Connected and Nobody Seems to Talk About it

Asthma wasn’t always such a big part of my life. I always got extra sick with respiratory stuff as a kid, but I didn’t start having notable symptoms until high school. My asthma didn’t become severe until I was 24 when I was hospitalized for the first time. That same year I was assaulted. I am a family counselor, I talk to people about relationships, feelings, and trauma every day. It had never occurred to me that trauma is so strongly correlated with asthma.

Childhood adversity impacting asthma

According to the CDC, childhood adversity is directly linked to the likelihood of developing common chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes. The higher a child’s ACE score, the more likely they are to develop a chronic illness and mental health symptoms later in life. I was an adult when I was assaulted. Still, this information leads me to conclude my asthma becoming persistent and severe the year this occurred is hardly coincidental. Discovering the ACE score correlation to physical health has really opened my eyes, and makes me curious why trauma is not more readily linked with chronic illness in the medical field. Trauma and ACE should be part of the intake when speaking with a kiddo with severe asthma or IBD.

Still have poor controlled asthma

My asthma continues to be poorly controlled. Now 27, the past 3 years have included more prednisone than I care to remember, 20lbs of puffy steroid weight, and being told I fall somewhere between severe persistent asthma, IGE, and Eosinophilic – but not enough to qualify for a biological shot yet. I write this now on my 6th week of prednisone in 2019, now certain a career change is in my future. Knowing about stress and trauma’s effect on asthma, I now recognize I cannot continue serving high crisis populations due to its toll on me. I recognize that I could be equally helpful to others if perhaps I do what I know best now – become a respiratory therapist. This summer I will be returning to school to become an RRT. I look forward to helping people advocate for themselves. To be continued…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • llchev66
    1 month ago

    I think stress in my life definitely is a factor in my asthma and allergies.

    Have you considered allergy injections ?

    Take care,
    L

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    1 month ago

    Hi llchev66, thanks for commenting on this story it’s great to hear from you. How have you managed stress and asthma? Do you have any tips? Looking forward to hearing from you. Warmly, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • patty49er
    2 months ago

    Wow, I never put childhood trauma and asthma together before. I have a very high ACE score. I had A LOT of childhood trauma and a lot of upper respiratory infections as a kid. Then I had pneumonia three times as an adult that was severe enough that I had to be hospitalized. I wasn’t diagnosed with asthma until about six years ago, though, and it’s allergic asthma that’s well-controlled, thank goodness. Thank you for making that connection. I’m sorry that this is causing you to have to change careers. I wish you the best in your new one!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi patty, and thanks for chiming in the conversation here. We appreciate the support you’ve lent to the author, rachelfordfitz. We also appreciate your candor in sharing your circumstances with the community. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • sean
    3 months ago

    I’m not sure if my high school car accident has anything to do with my asthma? But it traumatized me, I went through a windshield at 90mph I didn’t really have asthma symptoms till 2011, nothing was working for me and I was going through one albuterol every two weeks, I had pneumonia 2 times a year and was on multiple corticosteroids, still with no control, I was in the mountains August 1st 2018 and Yosemite fire smoke came into our area and I could not escape, I was rushed to emergency and unconscious, intubated for 9 days and hospitalized for 15 days and another 15 in rehab/physical therapy, I got a New pulmonologist that did a blood test to check for e asthma and said it would not be accurate because high does of prednisone but it was a little high, I started my first injection of NUCALA April 12, 2019 and I haven’t had an attack yet, I’ve had a few times where I was congested but nothing major! So if you think you have e Ashtma which they did a study and determined 67% of Asthmatics have e asthma I recommend getting a new doctor that listens, my last dr said I wasn’t taking medicine right, I told him to take a hike!

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    3 months ago

    Hey Sean! I’m glad that you read this story and thank you for being so open in sharing your life experiences with us. We’re starting to have more conversations about asthma and trauma and it’s something that hasn’t really been talked about elsewhere. You’re totally right about finding a doctor that listens to you, you deserve a healthcare team that gives you the right attention and care you need. You talked about smoke as a trigger for your asthma, do you have any other triggers? I appreciate you sharing Sean, let me know if you need anything. Looking forward to hearing more from you! Warmly, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • snowballet
    3 months ago

    Hi @rachelfordfitz, you have been through so much personally and as a result of your asthma – prayers that it gets better!
    May I ask why “but not enough to qualify for a biological shot yet”? The goal would be to get you off of oral steroids – that is where all the risk is.

  • beWell2019
    4 months ago

    Having been released from a 4-day hospitalization from a long, stubborn & severe asthma attack with bacterial pneumonia I’ve had much free time to reflect on career versus my future health needs.

    I work a fulltime job as an overnight customer service associate doing both cashier & restocking shelves in a large grocery & drug store here in Honolulu, Hawaii. Asthma makes doing simple physical work tasks so very complicated ☹.

    Just before Good Friday, I caught a minor cold with a scratchy throat & a stuffy head that I caught from other sick coworkers who came to work that week. By the following Monday & Tuesday it turned into a life-threatening asthma attack! I’m guessing that my oxygen level was dangerously low as I couldn’t lift myself out of my bed at the back of my home to go to the kitchen to fix me something to eat. I desperately, laid in my bed praying & basically searching for oxygen like a fish out of water waiting for my inhalers to take effect with no avail . I spread Vicks vaporub all over my chest which helped loosen the phlegm significantly. So on Wednesday & decided to go to work that night. By the end, of my 9.5 hour work shift- I felt utterly congested again & went to my doctor’s office. Her assistant asked me why I didn’t call #911 on the previous Monday or Tuesday that week when my asthma meds didn’t work…I told her that I didn’t have enough energy to go open the front door & ability to make that call (now, I fully realize the correct answer). My doctor gave me prescriptions for prednisone & to refilled my inhalers.

    That Thursday, after getting home, I took my meds & went to sleep. I woke up feeling pretty good & went to work that night! Halfway though the night, I realized that my asthma was flaring up again as I was doing a “normally easy” restocking task. I was losing coordination, having involuntary muscle spasms, losing my balance & having static experiences with short blackouts! Had to actually sit & lay on the floor for a few minutes & 2-way radio for assistance up to the break room because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. I took my meds & clocked out to rest for about 2 hours before returning to complete my work shift. Again, I went home that morning, rested, feeling great when I woke up & went to work on Friday night!

    By 2:30 AM on Friday morning, I realized that I was in SERIOUS danger of collapsing! I couldn’t walk & talk, nor inhale when sitting down & had much difficulty comprehending what people were saying to me or what I was doing… it felt like my body was going through the motions but my mind didn’t understand why?!! I had great difficulty
    getting up when I bent down to do tasks & my chest felt like I had an elephant sitting on it! This time, I had to tell my supervisor that I need to leave work early & go to an Emergency room ASAP!!! So I clocked out from my work shift at 3:00 AM, got my belongings & called #911. Fortunately, the closest fire department is across the street just one block away!! The firemen & ambulance arrived in just a couple of minutes & did my vitals… my oxygen level was less than 60% & they immediately began giving me oxygen while in our store.

    All the while when I was waiting for my 1st responders to arrive, my supervisor (who’s normally very optimistic & about 6-7 years older than me) is telling me that I really need to focus on getting more exercise & get a gym membership to begin working out more often regularly. ..duhh?? He even had the audacity to tell me that if I wanna continue to be lazy (which I’m not!!)- my life is going to go downhill from here & that I’m going to die early in life!! I had to tune him out! Luckily that my 1st responders came quickly!!

    At the ER, I was given medication & several oxygen nebulizer treatments, had blood tests & chest x-rays done before being released (feeling much better). I was recommended to see my regular physician asap for a follow-up appointment which thankfully I got early on the afternoon of Monday, 4/29. After checking my vitals, my doctor examined my lungs & had her assistant do a short-walking breath test around her office to see my lungs performance. My wheezing & coughing both increased; while my oxygen level dropped. It was then that she made the decision to have me admitted into the hospital. I’m grateful that my doctor made that wise decision…I realize now, that had I continued to push myself further- I could’ve died!

    Why am I sharing this? From this recent experience, I realize that my oxygen levels were low for nearly a month before I sought medical help. I just thought it was a minor cold; never, did I guess it was pneumonia! If you’ve got loved one’s with asthma who live alone or independently with busy lives &/ or have multiple jobs…please check up on them periodically! If they’re running on low energy or sound exhausted or sick…encourage them to get medically checked out by their physician! And never assume that “No news is good news!”
    You might save their life!!!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi beWell2019 and thanks for sharing your extensive experience with the community. It’s entirely possible others may read of your circumstances and gain some insight for themselves or someone they know. We appreciate your candor. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • TracyLee
    7 months ago

    rachelfordfitz, it sounds like you had a tough time — childhood adversity, the assault, and asthma. Whew. The change to a less stressful career looks like a good decision for you.

    Your article got me wondering about any correlation to my abuse as a young child and adult onset asthma symptoms as a senior. My conclusion is…maybe?

    In my 20s, memories of early childhood abuse were stirred up by a near-assault by a manager, and many of the classic PSTD emerged. Thanks to the luxury of my spouse supporting me, I was able to take off work a full year and focus on the intense feelings from weekly therapy. At the end of the year, most the the PSTD had faded and I was ready to go back to work.

    However, over the years 3 emotional events definitely affected my breathing, and this was long before I learned I had moderate-to-mild persistent asthma.

    The first was when at a corporate “mandatory” pool party, this huge man playfully held my head under water. The second was when I was wearing noise canceling headphones while working on my computer, and a coworker walked behind me and put their hands around my neck in a “pretend” choke to attract my attention. The third event was when I was lying on my back on an exam table and an assistant accidentally dropped a pillow over my face.

    All three triggered immediate flashbacks to similar violent, not playful, childhood events. I way over-reacted and panicked, choking and feeling like a couldn’t breathe. But it was only during these similar events that breathing was a problem, not for generalized ongoing stress.

    Now a retired senior, I don’t expect that anyone will every try to push my head under water, choke me, or cover my face with a pillow. But if someone did, despite the therapy and how much the intensity of the memories have faded over the years, I am quite sure I would go straight into a full fledged asthma attack.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi rachelfordfitz and thanks for this intensive post – we appreciate your candor. I’m so pleased that upon realizing you are going to change careers, the profession you chose is respiratory therapy. I’m sure you will enjoy it moving forward. If there is anything we can do to assist you moving forward, please let any of us know.
    Good luck and please, keep us apprised of your progress.
    Leon (site moderator)

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