Monday, July 03, 2006

Asthma 101 for Bystanders

My husband once asked why I leave my bed and sit up half the night in a chair, far from the bedroom, when I start an asthma-induced coughing episode. Wouldn’t I be more comfortable in bed?

At the time, I didn’t quite know how to answer him. If he were to ask me today, I’d have to say, “Well, no.”

I don’t generally give those kinds of answers to people outside my immediate family. Right now, I’m on a college campus, in the dorms. I share a 4-person suite, with a common room in the middle. I’ve been sitting there for over 2 hours.


I woke up coughing around 2 am. It was the characteristic dry, unproductive cough of an asthmatic. Cough drops don’t help much, if any. The problem isn’t to calm down the cough (at least from my perspective), it’s to medicate to make it more effective in moving that gunk in the lungs.

In asthma, the bronchial tubes narrow. Initially, it’s a spasm that makes it hard to move out of the lungs. Funnily enough, getting air in is not a problem. The bigger issue is the build-up of CO2. Later, the respiratory system becomes swollen and inflamed, making it necessary to use medication long after the initial attack.

Triggers for attacks vary. Many asthmatics have allergies, and experience seasonal recurrences. Catching a cold generally will mandate increased vigilance in monitoring, as a side effect is to exacerbate the condition.

Right now, I’m at the end of a sinus infection, which led to an acute episode at the end of May. I’m still experiencing difficulties. I just finished a round of steroids, which usually lead to a bout of insomnia, in addition to the weight gain and stomach distress. Hours of fun.

One of my roommates came in with cough syrup. I declined the offer, which puzzled her some. She then offered cough drops, which I accepted.

I started to explain why cough suppressant wasn’t a good idea (I’m trying to move stuff out of my system, and the coughing, while annoying, helps that process). But then I realized that a deep discussion wasn’t indicated at 3 in the morning, and took the offered assistance.

Some things to know if you meet an asthmatic in distress:

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