How Talking About Asthma Helped Kortney Better Understand Her Level of Control

The Next Breath Editorial Team

July 2021

PERSONAL STORIES

Kortney, who lives with asthma and other atopic conditions, shares how talking about her experience helped her realize she wasn't in control of her disease.

Asthma is common in Kortney Kwong Hing’s family, so it was no surprise when she was diagnosed as a child. But as with everyone living with asthma, Kortney’s experience is unique. Originally from Canada and now living in Berlin, Germany, Kortney’s day-to-day experiences of living with coexisting diseases – asthma, food allergies and eczema – are documented in Zestfull, her online magazine that focuses on food allergies and atopic conditions, as well as The Itch Podcast, which she co-hosts with friend and allergist Dr. Payel Gupta. We asked Kortney about her journey, why she is a strong advocate for specialist care and why she encourages everyone with asthma to talk openly about their disease.

Q: How did you realize your asthma was uncontrolled?

A: Throughout my life, I’ve had to plan around my asthma and allergies. When I was younger, I avoided camping as it meant sleeping in tents or sleepovers with friends who had pets. As an adult, if my rescue inhaler was not by my bedside table, I couldn’t have a good night’s sleep because I was always afraid that I was going to wake up with an asthma attack. And I was waking up multiple times a week.

I first understood that my asthma was uncontrolled at an advocacy event where I met allergist Dr. Gupta, who is now a great friend and co-host of The Itch Podcast. We spoke about my asthma, and through digging a little deeper into my experience, she explained I was relying on my rescue inhaler way too much. I learned that my behaviors – avoiding social situations where I feared triggers and keeping my rescue inhaler close at night – were clear signs of uncontrolled asthma that I had been normalizing. I went to my doctor who confirmed my asthma was uncontrolled. Although I’m currently doing well, I’m trying to secure an appointment with a pulmonologist (a doctor who specializes in lung health) to evaluate my options and ensure my asthma is as well controlled as possible.

Q: What advice do you have for people who live with asthma?

A: It was only through that conversation with Dr. Gupta that I realized my coping mechanisms were not “normal”. I actually never even thought to have a conversation with my doctor about how much I used my controller medicine. So I suggest telling your asthma story to people around you, including family and friends, which may help you to gain a new perspective on your disease. Simply talking about your asthma could help you realize if you are normalizing the condition, because people who have no issues breathing probably don't worry about the things you may be worried about.

Even though I am knowledgeable about my asthma and feel comfortable advocating for myself, I know from experience that I sometimes clam up and don’t always say what I want to when speaking with my doctor. It’s important to think about what you want to ask before you go to an appointment – maybe even write it down – and know that there are many ways to control your asthma and you should ask how. Don’t give up on trying to achieve a better level of control – it might be a long process, but it’s worth it.

Q: Why do you advocate for people with asthma?

A: When I started blogging about my experiences with asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Network invited me to an event where I met Dr. Gupta. It was so empowering to me, and I learned a lot about my own asthma. It made me want to spread awareness so that others can get their health on track like I did.

Some of my proudest moments have been when people reach out to me after listening to our podcast to say, “I’ve gone back to my doctor because I realized from listening to you that I normalize my symptoms, too.” It’s incredible to know that just telling your story can impact someone else’s life and hopefully, their health.

I’m also concerned about how asthma is often portrayed in the media. A lot of the time, in films and television, you only ever see people taking their rescue inhaler and it often comes across as a joke. I worry that people think that’s the only way to control asthma or that it’s less serious than it is. I want people to know that uncontrolled asthma is serious and can be scary and to understand that you cannot fix the underlying causes of asthma with a rescue inhaler.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted how you’ve managed your asthma?

A: When COVID-19 first started, and there was so much uncertainty, it made me acutely aware of my asthma because we were not sure if people with asthma would have worse symptoms if they got it. I was certainly much more diligent about taking my medication every day so that my lungs would be protected as much as possible.

It also impacted my ability to see a pulmonologist. I was on the waiting list here in Berlin, but when COVID-19 hit, I cancelled all of my appointments and now it’s like starting from scratch again. But working with a respiratory doctor is incredibly important for the long-term management of my asthma, so I'm going through the process now.

Check out our tips for starting a meaningful conversation with your family and friends about asthma.

Kortney Kwong Hing is a paid spokesperson for Sanofi and Regeneron’s Next Breath Challenge, a disease awareness initiative launched on World Asthma Day 2021 that highlights the importance of prioritizing better asthma control and demanding access to specialized, long-term care that treats the root causes of the disease.

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Moving the future of asthma forward, together

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illuminate the latest science and empower people to take action
to strive for better asthma control.

Start using your next breath today to inspire others to get informed and
check back soon to find more ways to get involved.

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