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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Colds, asthma and the straw exercise

Well, I jinxed myself. Remember last week's post how I talked about not getting a bad cold yet this year? 

Yeah, well as careful as I was - I finally caught a cold. The photo shows my medicine pile for work. (By the way - I am NOT endorsing any of these things....nor do I get any money from any of the companies. I just wanted to show what I have to haul around between work and home when I get a cold.) These are a few of the things that seems to help sooth my throat, help my congestion and cough.

Daughter Kitty was sick, so I knew it was just a matter of time until I caught her cold. Even being as careful as I could be with hand washing, etc. it caught up with me.

It took a day or two, but it's now affecting my asthma. Hubby is sick too, but since he doesn't have asthma, he doesn't get as sick as I do.

In fact, he seemed surprised when I told him my chest was tight and I was having a hard time breathing.

People who don't have asthma have a VERY different experience when it comes to fighting colds. They get the scratchy throat, sneezing, runny nose and cough. 

But when you have asthma, it also affects your lungs so you have a hard time breathing. As I sit at my desk and type this, I am short of breath. It feels like I just walked up a long flight of stairs - and I am just sitting and typing! 

I used my nebulizer before work for a breathing treatment, but it's wearing off. So I'll use my rescue inhaler from my purse while I'm at work.

When we teaches classes about asthma, we do a little "this is what it feels like to have asthma" exercise.  (If anyone in the class has asthma, we do NOT have them participate!) We pass out coffee straws to each person. Then we have them jog in place for 30 seconds. Then we have them plug their nose and breathe ONLY through the straw.

I watch their faces as they desperately try to suck through the straw. 
Then we ask them: "How do you feel? Can you get all the air you need? Are you starting to panic a little because you can't breathe?" 

Then we have them pull out the straw.

People often say that not only can't they get enough air, but they are scared because they can't breathe. 

Welcome to my world! 
When you can't breathe, it is scary, and you can panic. Then that makes it harder to breathe. It's a vicious cycle. 

Then I tell them, "This is what it feels like to have asthma. Except, we can't take our straw out and breathe normally."

I see many people finally have that "Aha!" moment.

UNC_Chapel Hill has instructions of how to do this if you want to try it with a school group, scouts, etc.

Be careful if you use this activity so people don't chew on straws, poke their neighbor, etc. And you might want to pass around a trash can immediately after and collect the straws. Especially if it's a group of kids (or adults!) who might keep chewing on the straw. 

Well, its time to get back to my tissues, throat lozenges, rescue inhaler, hand sanitizer and self imposed exile in my office. (I don't want to get anyone else sick.)

Hopefully this doesn't last long and morph into pneumonia

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Don't even think about sitting next to me if you are sick

I'm not kidding. 

If you are sick (sneezing, wiping your nose and coughing), I will get up and move.

It doesn't matter if I am at work, church or the grocery store. I have changed seats in a movie theater and church, and swung my grocery cart around in the middle of the aisle to get away from someone who was coughing (and not covering their mouth of course!)

When my kids were little, their teachers would teach them to cough and sneeze into their shoulder or elbow and NOT THEIR HAND! Why? Because you cough or sneeze into your hand, then touch doorknobs, elevator buttons, the copy machine, etc. 

And then some unsuspecting person comes along and touches the doorknob, elevator button, copy machine and then innocently scratches their nose or touches their face. And BINGO! They are sick.

Am I over - reacting? Nope.

With asthma, you can have swelling in the lungs and not know it. You can't see it or know that it's there. So, a cold or flu on top of asthma can spell disaster. 

My 3 kids and I all have asthma. So, when they get "a little cold", it always turns into pneumonia - and that means another hospitalization. When they were younger, my kids were hospitalized 12 times - almost all of those were thanks to pneumonia.

When I get "a little cold", I also get pneumonia. That means I miss a week of work and am propped up on my couch with my nebulizer, giving myself breathing treatments.

Last time I had pneumonia, I was so weak that I could barely drive myself to the doctor. I knew I needed an antibiotic and course of oral steroids to get the swelling and infection out of my lungs.

It. Was . Scary.

And to top it all off, I coughed so hard I pulled a muscle in my ribs. Every cough was a new experience in pain! 

NOVA's Gross Science says that a sneeze and cough can travel all the way across a room and even be sucked up into the ventilation system!  

So, how do you keep healthy? Well, I will get up and move if I am around someone who is sick. 

If I see someone sneezing and coughing, I actually hold my breathe on my way out of the room. I'm not kidding.

I also carry a canister of pop up antiseptic wipes in my car. Any time I leave a store, work, etc, I pull out a wipe and clean my hands. Then, as soon as I get home, I wash my hands.

It's January and so far so good. I haven't had a cold yet, although PLENTY of people around me have been sick.

Now that I've said that, I'll get sick, right?!

What do you do to keep yourself healthy?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Holiday parties with food allergies

(Shutterstock image)

It's holiday party time - and as someone that is allergic to seafood - I am constantly checking my food at holiday parties. Shrimp in BBQ baked beans???? Yep.....I have had that happen! 

Son #2 is allergic to tree nuts, which are in a LOT of bakery products and ice creams. So he has an even harder time avoiding his allergen than I do. 

Last month, I attended a national allergy and asthma conference where one of the doctors showed a VERY funny video about food allergies.

How can that be funny?

Well.....if you have ever had a time when a doctor thought you had NO idea what you were talking about (because HE'S the doctor, not you......) you may get a chuckle out of watching the video. 

It was create by Dr. Julie Brown and it shows a mom trying to tell the ER doctor that her son is having anaphylaxis - but the doc isn't listening.

Does that sound familiar?  I have had pretty good luck over the years with doctors saying that "they listen to a mom's intuition because she knows her child better than anyone else, and she knows when something is wrong."

And....I've had other doctors that seemed to have the God Complex.

(They are God and are in control and the rest of us are mere mortals....)

It is pretty funny....

So, what can you do if you have food allergies? And will be at lots of holiday parties? Allergy & Asthma Network has a fabulous article "Holiday Party Prep: The Power of Role Play"

You can read it to find great ideas for dealing with food allergies,  and it will help you and your child feel empowered. 

If you are prepared, you can enjoy the holidays!

Now....pass the chocolate!




Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Real or artifical tree?

Well, it’s that’s time of year again. My friends on Facebook are posting lovely pictures of their family at the Christmas tree lots, picking out the perfect tree. It’s post card perfect.

Well, we are……heading to our store room to haul out our carefully packaged Christmas tree. Sigh.

No fresh smelling pine trees, no pesky needles to sweep up.
Just an artificial Christmas tree.

Hubby and I and all 3 kids have allergies – to everything. Trees, grass, flowers, bushes, cats, dogs, horses – basically anything that is alive. And that includes Christmas trees.

It’s not that we haven’t tried to treat our allergies. Not only do we all take allergy medicine (or allergy nose spray) every day, but the kids have all had 5 year’s worth of allergy shots.

Allergy shots are supposed to desensitize your body and make your allergies better...but just our luck - they didn't work well on the kids. 

Their allergies aren’t as bad as they used to be, but they still sneeze, get a runny nose, and have itchy eyes and throat.

So, we get a nice, boring artificial Christmas tree.

(Hubby actually doesn’t mind because it saves money! We don’t have to buy a new tree each year.)

I have to admit – I do miss the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, but it’s not worth the miserable month we would spend with allergy medicine and a box of tissues.

We did buy a fresh pine wreath for the front door, so at least we have that!

What is right for your family?

Real of artificial tree?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Thunderstorm asthma"

(Shutterstock image)

What a weird world we live in! 

Many of you have probably heard about "thunderstorm asthma" that hit Melbourne, Australia last week and left so many people unable to breathe.
What is thunderstorm asthma?

The Age, an Australian news source, explained it this way:

"In Melbourne, this phenomenon occurs when moisture-charged winds immediately before a storm whip up rye grass pollen from the pastures north and west of town, sweeping them into the city. Rye grass is the pollen that causes most cases of hay fever in Melbourne."
For those of you with allergies and asthma, you probably know what it's like to have hay fever cause an asthma attack. 
Ragweed, grass, flowers or trees are in bloom - you inhale the pollen and instantly you start sneezing and your chest tightens. Then the cough starts and you frantically paw through your purse to get your inhaler. (That's what I do anyway.......)
On Good Morning America, Bill Nye the Science Guy explained thunderstorm asthma in this video 
(My kids watched Bill Nye the Science Guy when they were growing up, so now every time I see him I get his theme song stuck in my head....."Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill Nye the Science Guy!") 

In Melbourne, the problem was the crazy wind broke the pollen into smaller pieces that were then inhaled by anyone that was outside. It hit a lot of people all at the same time
The New York Times reported that patients struggling to breath:

".... flooded the city’s emergency rooms, swamped ambulance call lines and joined lines around pharmacies during six hours on Nov. 21. All were struggling for breath. About 8,500 people went to hospitals. Eight have died, and one remains in intensive care more than a week after a thunderstorm surged across Melbourne, carrying pollen that strong winds and rain broke into tiny fragments."
You can watch a video from The Age and see how hospitals dealt with the flood of patients. 

That's a LOT of patients all at once. 

So, what do you do to protect yourself if you have allergies and asthma? 

It's hard to prepare for a freak storm! But - I try to prepare for ANY asthma emergency. 

My asthma inhaler goes everywhere with me. It's been to LA, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Washington DC and Paris. I never leave home without it - even when I head to the gym for a quick work out. I don't bring my purse to the gym, but instead bring my drawstring bag and throw in my inhaler, workout gloves, keys and water bottle.

I also know the emergency signs of an asthma attack and when I need to call 911 

When my kids were younger, they were hospitalized 12 times with pneumonia (2 of those were in ICU), so I know how scary it can be when you can't breathe. 

My heart aches for those who lost their lives to thunderstorm asthma. And I hope those who were treated in the hospital can keep getting better.

This makes me want to hug my kids (even if they are in high school and college) I can just see it now, "Oh sheesh mom! Not in front of my friends!" (Insert eye roll from kids.)

That's My Life as an Asthma Mom

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Avoiding food allergies during Thanksgiving

(Shutterstock image)

And.....the fun begins of trying to avoid food allergies with holiday parties.

Son #2 is allergic to tree nuts, and I am allergic to seafood. So we are always on the lookout for cross contamination as restaurants, family parties and work parties. As careful as we try to be, we both had an accidental exposure last month, which makes me really nervous. Because the next allergic reaction to either of us will be anaphylaxis. 

This week, a family member gave us a loaf of delicious looking pumpkin bread, and when Hubby cut a slice -  I saw walnuts. I quickly turned to Son #2 and said, "Don't touch it!!!" 

Then I wrapped it up tightly, moved it to the back of the counter and sanitized the counter top. Sigh. Here we go again....

We have told family members several times about our food allergies, but it just goes in one ear and out the other. I'm not sure why - maybe because they don't have to deal with it, so they forget.

For us, it is life threatening.

This year, I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner, and I will NOT have pecan pie in my house. I will buy any other kind of pie, but I will not bring nuts into my house.

In fact, I will be supplying the pie myself so I know that there are no nuts. 

Other friends and family can bring things like green salad, rolls and mashed potatoes. I don't have to worry about those foods.

If you have food allergies - let everyone know. You need to protect yourself.

Don't be afraid to ask what's in a certain food. I will pick up the serving utensil and dig into a dish and examine it. I will also ask if it contains seafood or nuts.

If there is something nearby that has nuts or seafood, I will ask that we serve ourselves dinner first so we can make sure people don't switch serving utensils - which can result in cross contamination. 

When I host a dinner, I will also put small signs in front of each dish so people can know the ingredients.

Speak up and protect yourself! The holidays are a wonderful time - but not if you are in the ER with anaphylaxis! 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Seeing Doctors In a New Light

I just attended a national allergy and asthma conference for doctors. As a Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C), I was hoping to learn as much as I could about new research, treatment plans. I want to make sure I am up to date when I help families understand more about asthma.

Since I work in Public Health, I felt like an outsider there. But it was interesting to see things from the doctor's point of view. 

Did you know that (gasp!) they aren't perfect?! (Seriously.....who IS perfect? No one!)

Did you know that they lose sleep worrying about patients? They worry:
  • Is there a different diagnosis? 
  • Did they miss something on a medical test? 
  • Is their patient going to be okay? 
  • Could they have done more?
The list of what they worry about can go on and on.

Not only are they doctors, but they are also parents and have their own families to worry about.

The EMR (electronic medical record) that they are required to use takes a LOT of time. It's supposed to be more accurate, but apparently many of the doctors hate it.

The presenter said that many times doctors go home after work and have "pajama time" - meaning they spend another hour or two finishing up online paperwork.

Not only do they worry, they also can suffer from depression - just like many of us do. It sounds like they are under a lot of pressure. 

This is the first time I have seen this side of their profession. 

What can we do to let doctors know that we love and appreciate them?

I send a Christmas card each year with a hand written thank you about how they specifically have helped me or one of my family members.

When I was more organized, I also would take them something from a local bakery along with the card.

I'm going to make sure my doctors get a nice card this year! And maybe I won't wait until Christmas - I think I'll do next week before Thanksgiving to show that I am thankful for them. 

Many times, we are not at our best when we are at the doctor for ourselves or with a child that is having problems with their asthma. (It's always hard watching a child struggle to breathe.)

So, I like to send something afterwards to thank them for keeping me calm and taking care of my kids.

What are you thankful for?

If it's your doctor - let them know!