How One Woman Refused to Let Asthma Control Her Life

The Next Breath Editorial Team

December 2019

12/1/2019 12:00:00 AM

PERSONAL STORIES

UNDERSTANDING SEVERE ASTHMA

Tammy was diagnosed with asthma as an infant. Throughout her childhood, her asthma was severe but under control with help from her doctor, who prescribed an inhaler and other medicines.

But as an adult, Tammy has had a very different relationship with asthma. One night when she was four months pregnant, Tammy experienced a severe asthma attack and drove to the hospital. The doctors said if she didn't take a high dose of steroids, her baby would likely receive less oxygen, which could affect its growth. From that moment on, it was a stressful pregnancy.

While many women experience worsening asthma symptoms during pregnancy, it usually returns to normal after the birth.1 Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Tammy. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but despite her treatments, Tammy’s severe asthma remained uncontrolled. She started using her inhaler daily—sometimes eight times a day—and experiencing attacks monthly.

Her daughter is now 21, and asthma still affects Tammy every day. But, Tammy is more determined than ever to learn more about her severe asthma—including the underlying cause—and work with her doctor to take back control.

Living Inside Out

Tammy says she feels like she lives her life inside out. When her asthma is bad, she stays at home, avoiding activities and events that could trigger an attack. She has skipped birthday parties and vacations—and has been watching life through her windows and the screen of her cell phone.

"Thank God for technology because I can watch my daughter ride a horse, which would trigger my asthma otherwise," Tammy said. "I watch from a distance, but I can't experience it firsthand."

Her daughter also spent much of her youth on the sidelines, taking care of Tammy when she wasn’t feeling well. On the one hand, Tammy is proud that she raised a strong and capable daughter. On the other, she feels guilty.

"Children grow up seeing their parents as superheroes, and I wasn't her superhero when my asthma flared up," Tammy said. "I feel guilty because when I'm not feeling well, my family's lives circle around me getting better. It's unfair."

Learning About the Underlying Causes of Asthma

In 2009, Tammy had another severe attack. When she woke up from being sedated, her doctors explained just how critical it was—it could have taken her life.

"I realized that it's my job to be healthy," Tammy said. "So when my daughter graduates, I can be here to see her get her college diploma. And when she gets married, I can be there to walk her down the aisle."

Since then, Tammy has sought to educate herself about her asthma. One thing that patients and doctors are learning more about is the role of a particular type of chronic inflammation within the body—called type 2 inflammation—of some patients living with uncontrolled persistent asthma.2

Excessive type 2 inflammation is an overactive response of the immune system that underlies several allergic and atopic diseases.2 Tammy has several co-existing diseases, including allergies to many foods and bees and a specific intolerance to histamines.

Partnering with Her Doctor

Most don’t see how people are genuinely affected by asthma, according to Tammy. Even on good days, patients with persistent asthma still need to take their medicine.3

"I still remember the severe asthma attacks that I've had because I didn't take my medicine or listen to my doctor," Tammy said. "Now, I realize I need to take better care of myself because the effect is not just on my life, but my family’s too."

Despite the current standard of care therapies, many people living with moderate-to-severe asthma may not realize how severe their condition is.4,5 Tammy encourages others living with asthma to have an open dialogue with their doctor to understand the underlying cause of asthma better and create a treatment plan that works for them.

References

  1. 1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma during pregnancy. November 2016. Accessible at: https://www.aafa.org/asthma-during-pregnancy/ Accessed August 14, 2019.
  2. 2. Gandhi NA, BL Bennett, NM Graham, et al. Targeting key proximal drivers of type 2 inflammation in disease. Nat Rev Drug Discov 2016;15(1):35-50.
  3. 3. Fanta, C. UpToDate. 2019. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/asthma-treatment-in-adolescents-and-adults-beyond-the-basics. Last accessed August 2019.
  4. 4. Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA). Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention. 2018. Available at: http://ginasthma.org/download/832/. Last accessed April 2019.
  5. 5. Price D, Fletcher M, van der Molen T. Asthma control and management in 8,000 European patients: the REcognise Asthma and LInk to Symptoms and Experience (REALISE) survey. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med 2014; 24:14009.

Date of approval: November 2019 | IMM.19.10.0001

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