As the family’s first child of his generation, my nephew Eric was everyone’s favorite. He used to be a blue-eyed chubby angel, and we couldn’t do without him around. One night he woke up from his sleep and couldn’t breathe. A trip to the ER told us what we weren’t ready to hear. Eric was diagnosed with asthma.
“Asthma changes your life but does not need to limit your life”
Today, ten years later, Eric is a healthy young boy with as healthy and active a lifestyle as any other boy in his class. But on that night in the ER, we could scarcely imagine how we would help Eric cope with his illness. Not only has Eric learned to work around asthma, but he now takes it in his stride. The last ten years have been a learning curve for Eric and everyone around him. I think we have learnt a great deal and by sharing it we hope others will learn as much.
“Over 235 million people across the world suffer from asthma”
Asthma is commonly seen in children and in many cases, it subsides with age. However, with millions of patients, the disease stays and can even progress. It is an under-diagnosed and under-treated illness. Over 80% of the deaths due to asthma occur in low and middle-income countries where primary health care is absent.
Most people realize they have asthma due to their difficulty in breathing. Especially in children, the inability to breath is very stressful and waking up in the middle of the night feeling suffocated can be a traumatic experience. Eric still has nightmares sometimes about the first horrific night he woke up breathless. He never fails to keep his inhaler close before going to sleep. Most common signs include difficulty in breathing, whistling sound when inhaling, wheezing when exhaling, coughing, and a feeling of tightness in your chest. Asthma symptoms can flare up and lead to an asthma attack, which involves a fast heartbeat, fatigue, faster breathing, blue fingers or lips, and even losing consciousness.
“Most common signs include difficulty in breathing, whistling sound when inhaling, wheezing when exhaling, coughing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.”
Asthma stems from an underlying inflammation in the lungs that flares up as a result of an allergen irritating the respiratory pathways. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Cold or flu
- Second-hand smoke
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and aspirin
- Stress and anxiety
- Food additives such as sulphites
- Pollen and other environmental allergies
- Dust and mustiness indoors
- Food allergies like peanuts etc
“Asthma has no treatment, but with proper management, you can live a normal life.”
The primary responsibility for those like us around an asthma patient is to help them avoid asthma triggers such as infections, weather conditions or allergies. With Eric, we figured out quite soon what his triggers were, but sometimes he still suffers attacks without any of the usual triggers being present. This is not unusual for asthma patients and you must always have emergency medication handy. This medication includes rescue inhalers, prevention inhalers, long-acting reliever inhalers, tablets, and drugs.
Apart from medication, the most important thing to do when diagnosed with asthma is to design an asthma action plan with your physicians. We spent weeks rehearsing our plan with Eric and this makes it easier for us to let him live and experience life on his own because we know that he is well aware of what needs to be done in emergencies. An asthma action plan contains all valuable information regarding your medications, symptoms, and your doctor’s appointments. It also includes emergency steps and measures to be taken when no help is nearby. We informed all of Eric’s teachers about the action plan and it was also great to see how much his friends cared about Eric. They would all come together and help him out in the few times he suffered an attack in school.
As a family we were committed to helping Eric, this meant we also had to change some of our habits. The smokers among us quit smoking, which is a good side-effect of the illness for the whole family, everyone has become more aware and careful about fitness, our diet is far more controlled than before, and our daily cycles are centred around Eric. On the whole, all of us have taken to healthier habits and we intend to stick to them. So remember, if you suffer from asthma or if someone close to you does, there are now multiple ways to help you deal with it and continue to lead a fruitful life.