Living With Asthma

People who can always breathe easily never really understand asthma. Unless and until you have experienced that slow tightening of the chest, the reality of the fear and distress it causes never strikes home. At least, that should be fear and distress in the beginning. People who have it should learn to live with it. Millions grew up before the inhalers and modern drugs came on to the market. Not for them the freedom to squirt relieving chemicals into their lungs. They either learned how to control the problem naturally or ended up in hospital, hooked up to an oxygen bottle. Today, we see children and their parents living in the shadow of asthma as if it’s some kind of death sentence. Yesterday, we had athletes and sporting heroes as our role models – people who had conquered asthma and reached the highest levels of performance. Now children are not allowed to leave home without their inhalers plus back-up. And schools have been trained to deal with asthma attacks. The world is walking around expecting the worst. This shift in culture has been engineered by the pharmaceutical industry.

It has convinced everyone that the sufferers can only survive by using these magic products. This is not completely dishonest. There are times when the attack is severe and the drugs relieve what could have become a serious threat to health. But that does not justify using these drugs routinely. That said, since no one now learns relaxation techniques to control breathing, the young are dependent on drugs to do it for them. For the more serious cases, it’s become customary to rely on steroids as an anti-inflammatory. Because inflammation of the airways and lungs is not limited to asthma, these drugs are actually used for almost all diseases of the lungs. Indeed, the practice is to pump large amounts of steroids into you through an intravenous line if you present at an emergency room. The most common of the oral drugs is Prednisone. Because of the risk of side effects, this is not used unless the asthma is serious or has been difficult to control over a long period of time. This can avoid the need to go to hospital.

There are two approaches. One is a so-called steroid burst where you take a high dose for a short period of time. The other is a very low dose taken for a relatively long period of time. Prednisone is safe and effective so long as it’s used properly. If you find the asthma continues in seriousness or recurs, this may suggest a different problem. Prednisone will almost always reduce inflammation and ease breathing, if not on the first use, then definitely on the second. If the asthma continues or recurs it suggests a continuous source of infection which should be identified, or that you have an allergy. If you do opt for the long-term, low-dose strategy, monitor your body carefully. If you find you are putting on weight or weight is being redistributed, or that there are swelling around the joints suggesting fluid retention, this is the time to slowly stop taking the drugs. No matter how bad the asthma, the side effects of steroids are worse. So, as with everything connected with drugs, you balance costs against benefits.