The first time I saw my daughter in an N95 mask wasn’t during the pandemic. It was in the car, racing down the 101 freeway, heading south, desperately seeking air she could breathe. The wildfires in Northern California were raging and the air was orange. Apocalyptic orange. And my asthmatic child was gasping for air.
My daughter was first diagnosed with asthma at age 7. She was having regular bouts of wheezing and chest tightness and was prescribed two inhalers by her pediatrician. A steroidal one and one with the medication albuterol. When I asked the doctor how she developed asthma, assuming of course I had failed as a mother by not preventing this, she told me it can be genetic. My husband suffers from chronic asthma as well, so naturally I blamed his genetics. But he also gave my daughter his amazing sea-foam blue-green eyes, so I forgive him.
Most asthma, 70%, is considered “mild” and can be treated by a primary care doctor. But once a patient needs an inhaler more than a few times a week, they need to see a specialist and may be prescribed inhaled, oral and biologics to take control of their asthma. My daughter is, thankfully, in the mild category these days, but we still don’t go anywhere without her inhalers. We never know what will set off an asthma attack, and as a mom there’s nothing scarier than watching your child gasp for breath.
Having up-to-date medication on-hand and actually TAKING IT isn’t something I’m used to. I grew up without much money and couldn’t really afford to go to the doctor as a child, so even as an adult I get stressed and try to skimp and save on medication. Maybe if I skip a day? Or do one puff instead of two to stretch the medication out??? But I’ve now learned how important it is to take your medications as prescribed by your doctor. Especially with asthma.
The underlying cause of asthma is inflammation and the tightening of airways. And it’s important to keep that inflammation under control by following the doctor’s orders and taking medications on a regular basis. Taking medications as prescribed by a doc can prevent scary flare ups and make a patient feel better over time. If an asthmatic’s asthma isn’t under control, it can limit their daily activities, cause night-waking and prevent them from living their best lives. Not good.
I know a lot of people are like I used to be, and don’t always take their meds as prescribed for a variety of reasons. For me it was often financial considerations. And sometimes laziness. And sometimes just forgetting. And when the doc asked if I took it, of course I would lie. Because I was embarrassed to admit I couldn’t afford the medication or just totally forgot to take it. But now I know it’s important to be honest with your doctor. Tell them if you’re having trouble paying for meds and they may be able to give you coupons or help you secure other financial assistance. Not being able to afford medication should never be a barrier to proper treatment.
It’s also important to speak up to your doctor about your symptoms. Be a squeaky wheel. Ask to see a specialist. We have to be our own best health care advocates. I know it can be intimidating to speak up at the doctor’s office (especially when the doc, ahem, doesn’t have the best bedside manner) but it’s important so you can get the care you need. Especially when it comes to asthma, because there is a tiered ladder of treatment with asthma and specialized biologic treatments depending on what type of asthma it is. It’s not one-size-fits-all. So the doctor needs to know what’s up to properly treat you.
First, you and your doctor have to determine when the asthma is severe and why you might not be responding to treatment; maybe it isn’t even asthma! Maybe it’s something else. If it is asthma, the next step is to increase the dosing of steroids and broncho-dilators. And the third step is to see a specialist, like an allergist or a pulmonologist, so they can determine what type of asthma it is and potentially introduce new biologics to specifically target the ailment. There are five newer biologic therapies available, like omalizumab, mepolizumab, reslizumab, benralizumab, and dupilumab (all of them are shots that are making a big impact on patients with severe asthma. The cool thing about medicine these days is that they are starting to create more and more refined treatments. They can zero in on exactly what type of ailment YOU have to treat YOUR symptoms specifically. To figure out the treatment that’s best for you, fill out this asthma treatment plan with your doctor.
And while you’re at it, you can help with asthma research too!
Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would love to hear from YOU! Your input will provide important information about the challenges you have experienced with asthma diagnosis and treatment, which will help them develop future educational initiatives. The survey is super fast and takes a few minutes to complete and responses are shared only in aggregate. Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to WIN 1 of 6 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will be used to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. Take the survey HERE!
I’m so grateful that there are more and more treatments for severe asthma these days. As a mother and a wife to asthmatics, it gives me peace of mind to know that the people I love will be ok and breathe easier thanks to science. Especially when we are fleeing wildfires and in desperate need of breathing support.
I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Sanofi Genzyme to write about asthma as a chronic disease and new treatments. All opinions are my own. @MedIQCME #AsthmaEducation