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Late Onset Asthma—Yuck

Hi. I’m female, age 71. Diagnosed with asthma about a year ago and I guess I’m still in denial. I have always thought of myself as a pretty healthy person. I’ve gotten sinus infections my entire life, but never had a cough or bad allergies (that I knew of) until about a year ago. Didn’t go to the Dr. at first because I only coughed at night — I kept thinking I was getting better every morning (6 weeks of this). Then started on prednisone and have been on and off prednisone but mostly on since March 2016. Every time I would go off it, I would get my cough back and once I was even admitted to the hospital! In December, I had sinus surgery (worse than knee replacement surgery) which I thought would stop all this. On Dec 30, on a normal follow up with my dr, he discovered that I was breathing at 40% lung capacity — I knew I was very sleepy but had no idea that was why. — no cough at all.

Anyway, right now, I am taking 2 inhalers daily. I also have a nebulizer (albuterol) that I use 2-3 times a day. I have just started with Xolair injections but no idea if it will work or not. I bought a humidifier and an air cleaner. Started walking outside, but my allergist says it’s not good to walk outside in the winter and during the rest of the year– well — pollen, etc. Very slowly decreasing prednisone (now at 5 mg down from 60! mg @ end of Dec), but am scared that I will have to go back on it again! .

Sorry for this long rambling and possibly incoherent story, I do have some questions:

  1. Wouldn’t it make sense to figure out th cause of my asthma and remove/fix it rather than treating the symptoms? Or is this so complex that it’s not possible to do this.
  2. I have been told this is a chronic disease. My passion is travel— I ended up cancelling 2 wonderful trips this year and would hate having to give this up. These trips are about a month long. Actually, they are cruises to all over the world. I have not gone any place at all in about a year. Any chance that’ll change?
  3. I feel like I’m beginning to think of myself as an invalid — always afraid that I will get a cold or an unstoppable cough. Thoughts from anyone else? Am I overreacting?
  4. I got this soon after moving to a different city. (from Dayton, OH to Lousville, KY). Could Louisville be causing all this?
  5. I guess I’m no longer in denial, but have moved on to anger!

    Thanks, Janet

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  • AnnM.
    2 years ago

    Hi Janet,
    You are in one of the most frustrating stages of asthma which is trying to figure out the what, why and how of your asthma. It is complex and varies constantly which is one of the real challenges. I am at the stage that sometimes I forget I even have it, but it takes time to get here.
    1. Having a doctor who listens is key and being honest with them about what is going on. I had several who thought more steroids were the answer which is not always true. It took me two years to find the right doctor for my specific type of asthma. Her daughter has the same triggers that I do so when I told her what I thought I needed she did not look at me as if I had just landed from Mars.
    2. Travel is challenging. I simply did not for years because I could not. Not what I wanted, but I needed my lungs to heal. Now, I can travel, but I have to be very pro-active and read, read, read before booking a hotel.
    3. No, you are not overreacting — you are being pro-active and there is a significant difference in the two. Forward thinking and considering options is pro-active. Reacting with drama while trying to survive –not sure that counts as overreacting either.
    4. I am not a medical doctor. I am a life long asthma baby now in her 60’s. From my experience, environment has much to do with asthma. It could be something simple in your new home that is triggering your asthma like a deodorizer that was used to clean before you moved in or as complex as the air quality in the new city.
    I was having awful asthma attacks on Mondays until I realized my husband was cleaning my car windows with Windex on Sundays and the residual smell was triggering my asthma. Solution: stop cleaning with Windex. It took me two paramedic rescues on the side of the highway and two ER visits to figure it out, but we did. Now when I go to check out and the cashier pulls on Windex to clean the scanner, I run. Overreacting? Nope, being pro-active – I really don’t want to see the handsome firefighter/paramedics and deal with consequences of being exposed to the trigger.
    Time to move to logic from anger – it is the next stage!

  • janetg author
    2 years ago

    Hi Ann, thank you so much for writing. I am still in the anger stage, I guess. No — maybe I’m in the bargaining stage, wondering, since I’m feeling better (in SE Florida again) if I can begin to wean myself off my various inhalers. Sigh. thanks again!

  • janetg author
    2 years ago

    Hi AnnM, I really appreciated your post. I am in S Florida again and, surprise, surprise, I’m much better. Not 100%, but almost to the point where I can have a life. Traveling continues to be a problem — went on a 5,500 mile road trip this fall (a ‘bucket list’ trip) with no problems, even with the fires in the northwest. Airplanes, however, are really different. I’ve gotten sick after I’ve flown each time. It’s embarrassing (for me) to wear a mask onboard, but I think I will have to start doing so. Now, I wonder if I can start weaning myself off my myriad of inhalers. Again, thank you so much for writing.

  • PattyB
    3 years ago

    Hi Janet, I’m glad you got relief in SE Florida. Here is a link to coal burning plants. You can see the proximity to where you live.

    Wearing a mask and staying away from power plants, construction, etc. changed my life. I did not want to wear one for years, but I got over that and now I wear them every day. It’s worth it!

  • PattyB
    3 years ago

    Hi Janet,
    I am 53 years old and I found out 8 years ago that I have reactive asthma. I’m a former fitness and therapeutic riding instructor. My dream job was squelched with this new disease. Over these years I researched and figured out the root cause of the acute onset of my symptoms. I lived about 20 or so miles (as the crow flies) from a coal burning electric plant. The emissions and a breach caused my healthy lungs to become damaged. I, too, love to travel and now when I travel I have to take precautions of knowing where the chemical plants are located, hotel cleanliness, having my portable nebulizer charged, and all five of my medications with me. As far as my home, I have no pets, all tile home, specialized air conditioning system, and no knick knacks sitting around. I even have to have a cleaning service come in two times per month to make sure all the dust is removed at one time. I was in the ER four times in 2015 so I had to make a cleaning crew a part of my budget.
    I told you my story because I am continually doing research about my asthma and I would like to respond to your questions. I totally understand your anger as you have been suddenly restricted from doing the things you love to do. I have passed the anger stage and am now working with my body. It makes a big difference.
    First, I would check with your doctor about a humidifier. That is a big no-no for me because humidifiers can cause mold and moisture also holds particulates hanging in the air. You may notice that you cough more if there is fog out (no air movement & particulate mixture). In addition if you love long hot showers, that will cause issues for the same reason.
    I don’t know if you have carpet or pets in your home, but it’s very important to keep your home and pets as clean as possible. If possible, have someone else do the vacuuming,but if you don’t have anyone to help you wear a mask (buy in drugstore) while you vacuum and clean your home. Pack up all extra knick knacks to help dust from collecting. Dust your fans, mini-blinds, etc. If you have husband and kids to help you, great let them help you. Cleaning supplies can also cause issues with your asthma. I use non-scented vinegar based cleaners. Stay on your maintenance medications and keep your environment as clean as possible. Look at the outside environment as well, are there any energy plants, construction sites, etc. that might aggravate your symptoms? Wear a mask when you go out. I use to be embarrassed, but having an asthma attack is worse. Even car emissions set me off.
    You are wise to be careful around sick individuals. If you get a cold, flu, or virus your lungs will be affected. It’s ok to stay away from those who are sick. Washing your hands out in public after touching doors is good, but if you don’t have access to a sink, then just don’t touch your face until you can wash.
    As far as exercise, find an indoor, clean place to walk or exercise. I had to leave a gym because they wouldn’t keep the floors or equipment clean. A mall may or may not work for you due to the perfumes, candles, etc. located there. You probably know of a clean place to exercise. If the air quality is good on a day then walk outside.
    You should be able to travel, just take appropriate precautions and be prepared with medications and fore planning. Your traveling partner needs to be aware of your health issues and can help you if needed. My portable nebulizer has kept me out of the ER since 2015 so see if your doctor will prescribe one for you.
    Lastly, you are not invalid by any means. Yes, your life changed and you have to look at life differently, but even if you can’t do some of the things you use to, find new enjoyments. Allow your body to navigate without pushing it to a place it doesn’t want to go. That will cause more harm than good. My original dreams have been diverted. I’m still figuring out what I will do next, but I know I am meant to do something more than teach fitness and therapeutic riding classes.
    Mind your environment, forgive your body for the betrayal, let your body return to it’s natural homeostasis, and get ready to begin a new chapter. Let your family and friends help you. Your life isn’t over it’s just taking a new path.

  • janetg author
    3 years ago

    PattyB– thank you so much for replying. We just moved to a retirement community in an area that does generate its electricity from coal– I haven’t smelled it but then I haven’t been able to smell anything since sinus surgery! My husband worked in that industry before he retired, so I could never ever claim that coal particulates were a cause, but now that I think about it, they very well may be.

    After I was diagnosed, I had a mold expert inspect our apartment — none found– and had the maintenance people clean out the ducts –it was amazing how much stuff was in there. Wanted to remove the carpett and replace with hardwood floors, but the cost is prohibitive. You are right about a mask — people in Asia use them all the time– but I’m not ready to do that yet.

    We are lucky that there are exercise facilities (machines, weights, indoor pool and hot tub) where we live and I should be using them. I love to walk in malls and don’t think I’m affected by perfumes, etc (especially since I lost my sense of smell).

    What is a portable nebulizer– I have one that I can put in a pouch but it has to be plugged in.

    We are on our first trip since this horror began– are in SE Florida. So, today, we went to the beach and the strangest thing happened: after about 45 minutes, my sinuses stopped dripping, my voice became normal, my cough disappeared and my lungs felt open (don’t know how else to describe them). ‘Twas wonderful!! Now if only I had a couple of million dollars so I could afford to buy someplace by the ocean!

    Thank you for saying that I am really not an invalid. I have to stop babying myself and get out there. I’m going to see if my dr will prescribe some physical/occupational therapy so I can get back into shape. I was never even close to being A fitness instructor!!! Again thank you so much–you have no idea how much your comments meant to me. Janetg

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