A relative and a friend of mine both recently found out they have asthma. That’s got to be hard news to process. What does living with asthma even mean? What will I need to do so I can be back to “normal?” Well, first the bad news: there isn't really a "cure" for asthma. The good news: there’s been a significant amount of research on how to manage and treat asthma symptoms. A good doctor who is knowledgeable about asthma can really make a difference. A daily maintenance prescription can really help keep flare-ups from happening. This is truly one of those things that if you’re proactive and work your plan, you don’t get into a jam as frequently. Staying out of jams is really the ultimate goal in the asthma game. I can tell you from personal experience: you don’t work your plan, you’re jammed.
It’s hard to explain what it's like to a person who’s not felt asthma symptoms firsthand. Simulate for yourself not being able to get a full breath, or even half of one. Imagine repeating that experience over several minutes, or hours. The heart accelerates, your eyeballs feel like they're about to pop out of your head, everything feels swollen. In this situation it’s easy to panic, but that takes more energy than you have to expend, so you sort of go into this shut-down mode until relief comes from somewhere. Both my parents and Mrs. C can recognize in an instant if I’m struggling to breathe. They've seen it too many times to count: I get sort of buggy eyed, hands on my knees, leaning forward; my shoulder and neck muscles are trying awkwardly to help pull in air, but the problem is the swelling of the lining inside the lungs.
Sometimes an emergency inhaler won’t help, and you have to get a more involved kind of treatment like a nebulizer. Certain prescriptions with steroids in them will help calm asthma down as well. This is not usually a quick fix. It takes time, and time lets you replay the situation in your head over and over. What lessons should I learn from this experience? How many times have I had this same experience before? Most of the lessons I’ve learned about asthma have come the hard way. I shudder to think of all the times I’ve brought bad episodes onto myself. Too many times!
Breathing well is such a gift. I try not to take that for granted, and I try to remember that I do have much of the control! If there’s anything I’ve learned about asthma after nearly 50 years of living with it, it comes down to this: learn to respect it, but do not fear it or ignore it. I’ve tried ignoring my asthma, and that’s just plain stoopid. Fear tends to be irrational, and I don’t think fear helps you know what you can control. Respecting your asthma acknowledges that you’ve got triggers that set it off, figure it out, know your threshold. Work the plan.
Part of that plan must include physical activity. Good aerobic exercise is just as important--perhaps even more so--for a person with asthma as it is with anybody. That’s why cycling is so compelling for me. Riding a bicycle works better than most other physical things I’ve ever tried. It’s a way of celebrating what I can do, and not dwelling on what I’m not able to do. I can control my pace and intensity, or whether I can even get on the bike at all. And a good workout on the bike really gets my lungs and heart working (I was going to say "working in tandem," but that just feels like a cheesy cycling pun). There are days that the bike has to stay in the garage, but lately, there have been more days when the hum of my wheels remind me that I'm livin' and breathin' the good life.