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Friday, December 30, 2011

Asthma & Babysitting kittens

This week has been interesting since our neighbor's little girls got two kittens from Santa. They were so excited! But they had already scheduled a family trip after Christmas, so they asked my daughter, Kitty, if she could babysit. We were a little unsure since Kitty is allergic to all animals, trees, flowers, bushes, etc. There is actually one animal that she's not allergic to according to her skin test, and that's a rat. Shot Nurse brightly suggested that we get a pet rat for Kitty! What a teaser she is, just what we always wanted, a pet rat.

We weren't sure how this week would go with babysitting. Kitty has been doing allergy shots (immunotherapy) for about 3 years, so we were hoping she would do well being around the kittens. The kittens are at the neighbors, and Kitty goes over every couple of hours to cuddle and play with the kittens. She even bought toys for them but it seems they prefer a piece of paper tied to yarn. (Kind of like when you buy presents for your toddler and they would rather play with the box.)

Kitty decided to wear a special jacket every time she went over to cover up her clothes so she could cuddle the kitties. Then when she got home, she could take that off and hopefully remove much of the cat dander. She also washes her hands after playing with the kitties. But her idea isn't working. Even with allergy shots, she sneezes and sneezes and sneezes. At least she's not coughing and wheezing. She has to change all of her clothes and shower every night before she goes to bed to remove all of the cat dander.

It's so frustrating being allergic to so many different things. Normal people (aka people who don't have asthma) can play with kittens and even have them in their home. But if you have asthma, it's a whole other story. Why can't we just be normal and be able to pet cats and dogs, and have flowers, trees, and bushes. And a real Christmas tree?!

I can't tell you how much I hate allergies and asthma. I resent it being such a big part of our lives. On the positive side, I have been able to help countless families with what I have learned about allergies and asthma over the last 12 years.

That's My Life as an Asthma Mom

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Allergy alert bracelets/necklaces/watches/shoe tags

Wow! Things have certainly changed since I first bought a medical alert bracelet for Son #2 at the local drug store. It was an inexpensive silver band that showed that he has asthma. Of course I also would meet with his teacher at the beginning of every school year, and also let any coach or scout leader know that he had asthma. They have some new styles of bracelets, necklaces, watches and shoe tags to alert people about allergies and asthma.

He has long outgrown his asthma alert bracelet, but of equal concern is his tree nut allergy. We have to watch for that everywhere we go. In fact, last week we were in the city looking at Christmas lights and stopped at a street vender who was sellling hot chocolate. We ordered hot chocolate for all of us, and then Son #2 spotted a bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. And did they look good! He asked for a bag, and I started to reach for it, then remembered that those same cookies had caused him to have a reaction a few years before.

We were at a band concert for older brother, Son #1 (he was right in the middle of his saxophone solo) when Son #2 started eating Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine. His throat started itching and he started feeling warm, we thought 'uh-oh!' We raced out to hall, had him spit out the cookies, rinse his mouth out with water and spit that out too. I had a Benadryl Strip in my purse, so he quickly stuck that on his tongue and started to melt that. We had the Epi Pen at the ready, and could also race home to use the nebulizer for a breathing treatment.

Whew. What an experience. It didn't up going into full blown anaphylaxis. We were lucky! We grabbed the cookie package and read the small print that said it was made in the same factory as products containing nuts. Oh great! Who would have thought chocolate chip cookies could contain tree nuts?! What would have happened if I wasn't there? Would anyone else have known what to do? Would they even know he was allergic to tree nuts and was having anaphylaxis?

We had a similar experience years before, when Son #1 had anaphylaxis after getting an allergy injection. It was truly life threatening, and I never want to see that happen again-to anyone.

If you or a loved one has an allergy, do you have anything that warns other people? I am constantly checking for tree nuts in anything we eat, but what if I'm not around? I think I'll be ordering a few things from the Medic Alert website today. Things have come a long way from the little inexpensive silver bracelets I used to buy at the pharmacy. I need to buy something he will actually wear, otherwise what's the use? Christmas is over, but Son #2 will be getting a little gift from his mom in the mail. And it could someday help save his life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cold weather as an asthma trigger

We went into the capitol city last night to look at Christmas lights, and Son #2 said, "What's with all the scarves?!" Since most men don't wear scarves, he was wondering why everyone else seemed to be. It was below freezing last night (but no snow yet, which is VERY odd for where we live.) But it was so cold that it could take your breath away. Literally.

Those people were smart, because they had a scarf wrapped over their nose and mouth to warm up the air before they breathed it in. Cold temperatures can be an asthma trigger for some people. In fact, some people are sensitive to anything cold, not just the outside air. I start coughing after eating yogurt, smoothies or ice cream. In fact, yesterday when I passed by our administrative assistant she said, "Are you okay?!" I was coughing because I had just eaten a yogurt. I was a little surprised that anyone would notice, I guess because I am so used to it to coughing immediately after eating yogurt, but I was fine.

With smoothies, I can usually have about two swallows of my drink before I start coughing. And with ice cream, I am fine as long as I have it on a cone so I have to eat it slowly. Eating ice cream with a spoon is too fast and makes me cough. Same thing with milk shakes- a couple of swallows and the cough starts.

Back to cold weather. If you are outside and you don't have a scarf, then what? I actually forgot my scarf last night-of all times to forget it! In a pinch, you can cup your hands over your mouth and breathe in (so you sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars) That can be enough to warm up the air so you don't have an asthma attack. If you happen to be wearing a turtle neck sweater, you can pull that up over your nose and mouth. Sometimes, I have put my elbow up over my nose and breathed into the crook in my arm to warm up the air. Do whatever you need to to warm up the air if cold temperatures are your asthma trigger.

Remember, everyone with asthma is different. Cold temperatures are one of my triggers, but it doesn't affect any of my kid's asthma.

The best thing to do is to know what your triggers are and how to avoid them. Now if I could just avoid all the crowds that come along with this time of year......

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas cookie exchange!


So, it sounds like a brilliant idea, a cookie exchange! You bake one type of cookies, pile it up on a platter and meet a bunch of friends who have each baked a different type of goodie. When you arrive, you also bring empty plates and plastic wrap. Then you choose a few cookies from each of your friend's trays and pile them on your plate. You have a beautiful plate of assorted flavored cookies, yet you only had to bake once!

What could be better than that. Well.........

You knew this was going somewhere, didn't you?! Food allergies. It's hard to find desserts without nuts. Son #2 is allergic to tree nuts, so I am always nervous when it comes to any baked goods. There are A LOT of desserts that have nuts in them. And, even if I choose one that doesn't have nuts, how do I know that there hasn't been a cross contamination?

If I scan a platter of cookies, I look for anything with nuts. Are people picking up desserts with their hands or using tongs? Are they using tongs from one tray to pick up desserts from another tray? It only takes a tiny amount of what you are allergic to to cause anaphylactic shock. That can easily come from using one set of tongs for two different trays.

I decided not to risk having a problem with tree nuts. So Son #2 didn't get any treats on the last two cookies exchanges that I have gone to. Don't worry, I have plenty of nut-free goodies at home to tide over the teenager.

If you are visiting family this week for Christmas, make sure they know of your food allergy. If they still want to serve something that you are allergic to, make sure you bring a dish of food that you can eat. You can bring a main dish and a dessert, that way you know you are safe. And make sure you are the first one to serve yourself, so people aren't using the same serving utensil for different foods. It's no fun having anaphylaxis! I have spent A LOT of money on Son #2's Christmas presents. I would like him to be alive to open them.

Here's hoping for a nut-free Christmas dinner. (Yes, you can insert all sorts of jokes here about nutty family members if you wish.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Utah's Wood Burn Program


Utah has a 'wood burning program', which may seem strange to other people, but we need it. We have a unique area, we are in a 'bowl' that is surrounded by mountains. That causes cold air to be trapped near the ground, warm air is on the top, and in between is sandwiched a layer of pollution.

Sometimes you can 'taste' the air, that's how bad it gets. Utah tries to regulate when people can use their wood burning stoves, to help us all breathe better.

  • On red burn days, you are not allowed to use a wood burning stove. EXCEPT if it's your only source of heat. (You will receive a citation and fine from your local health department.) They also ask people to drive as little as possible on those days.

  • On yellow burn days, they ask for a voluntary 'no burn' day. They also caution people to drive as little as possible.

  • On green burn days, you are allowed to burn your wood stove.

So, why the regulations? Because the pollution creates tiny particles that can become stuck inside the lungs. Not good for those of us with asthma. It also affects people with cardiovascular disease. To visit the website about our Wood Burn Program, click here.

Our family has personally experienced problems with this. During one bad winter, my two youngest kids - Son #2, and daughter Kitty, were both hospitalized at the same time with asthma flare ups. They were able to share a room at the hospital together. In fact, Kitty was in the hospital on her birthday. I was trying to contact all of the parents to let them know that the birthday party was cancelled because Kitty was in the hospital. Stopping by one house, I noticed their fire place going. I asked them why they were using it during an inversion and mandatory "no burn." The wife rather bashfully said that her husband wanted to see if they could go all winter without using their furnace! At that point, I couldn't hold it in any longer and burst into tears, letting her know that my kids were both in the hospital-due in part to them using their wood burning fireplace. They only lived two blocks away from us, and the kids had to walk by her house twice a day, to and from school. Not to mention, the house was a block away from the school, so the kids were breathing in those tiny particles during recess too.

I think by that point, I was asking the teachers to keep Son #2 and Kitty in from recess, to protect them, but the damage had already been done. That's the hardest thing about asthma, is trying to get people to see that what they do can affect us, and yes, even lead to hospitalizations.

A recent study done by the Asthma Program from the Utah Department of Health has shown an increase in Emergency Department visits on days 5-7 of an inversion. To read a summary of the study, click here. Now I know our family is not alone in our suffering. Some people can be treated and released from the Emergency Department, others (like my kids) usually end up being admitted to the hospital.

So, if you live in Utah, please think about it before you use a wood burning stove or fireplace-especially on yellow or red burn days. Yes, it looks cozy and inviting to light a fire. But there are those of us out there who are paying a price for you sitting by your cozy fire.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Real or artificial Christmas tree for asthma?


What do you use for Christmas trees when you have asthma? Do you use a real tree or artificial? Often times, having asthma means you also have allergies, and my kids are allergic to anything that's alive. Well, there is one exception-during my daughter's skin test for allergies, we did find out that's she's not allergic to rats. So Shot Nurse cheerfully told us that we could get a pet rat for our daughter! Pass.

So, back to trees, since the kids (and Hubby and I) are allergic to so many different things (including trees) do we chance trying to use a real tree one year? Son #2 has completed his 5 years worth of allergy shots and daughter Kitty is about 3 years into having allergy shots. We used to get real trees when the kids were little, but they were always sick during that time too. So was it just that the kids were younger and they needed to build up their immune system? Or were they always sick in the winter because of the Christmas tree?

We switched to an artificial tree about 15 years ago. Yes, it's the same tree, and it's a little sparse. Every year Hubby and I say "we should get a new tree! This one is starting to look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree." But then something else will come along that takes a bite out of our budget. This year it looks like my lovely mini van needs new tires.

We keep the tree carefully boxed up from year to year, and let it air out before we bring it in the house. Sometimes I end up spraying it with Febreeze if it has that 'I have been stored away for a year' smell.

For those of you who have asthma, what do you use for Christmas? A real tree or artificial? Any good (or bad) stories with either kind of tree?

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Asthma is a Drama Queen

(photo from

People always laugh when I say this, but it's true. It really explains the difference between people with asthma and those who don't have asthma (aka "normal people".)

I try to explain to people what it's like to have asthma. "Normal people" can pet a dog or cat (or have one as a pet,) go horseback riding, visit a hay maze or a farm, walk through a meadow of flowers, do yard work outside, laugh or cry, wear perfume, use cleaning supplies or scented candles, go outside on a cold day, be around a smoker, and eat anything they want.

For those of us with asthma, all of these things and more can cause asthma attacks. We can't help it! Our bodies just over-react, like a Drama Queen. The inside of our airways close up, the bands around the outside of the airways shorten and squeeze the airway from the outside. And then, because the airway is injured, it produces mucus and we start to cough.

It's annoying, it's scary, it's inconvenient and I hate it.

"Normal people" may roll their eyes and think we're faking it, or putting on a show, or being a Drama Queen. No, we just can't breathe. They aren't having problems breathing, their bodies are just fine. They can't understand how they can be around the same trigger and not have a problem, but we're coughing and wheezing.

Luck of the draw I guess. They're lucky they don't have asthma. We're not. I have asthma, as well as all 3 of my children. It's a big part of our lives. I wish it wasn't like this, I wish I could do everything I wanted to. Even on maintenance (or controller medication) I still have asthma attacks. Of course my daily maintenance medication helps keep control the swelling in my lungs, so when I have an asthma attack, I don't end up in the hospital.

But all in all, I wish I was in the "normal" category. For those of you just learning about asthma, keep in mind that no two people are alike. Even with asthma, we all have different things that bother us (triggers) and cause asthma attacks. It's nice that you are just fine, but our bodies are Drama Queens, they do over-react, so please try to understand.

And hand me my inhaler.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daughter and friend save mom's life after severe asthma attack


Wow! What a story! A woman in Wisconsin, Kandace Seyferth, had a severe asthma attack, and when she collapsed, her daughter Maddie Kestell (age 10) and her daughter's friend Katlyn Vreeke (age 12) calmly started CPR and saved her life. How did two young girls know how to do CPR? From watching Grey's Anatomy! To see the video of the story, click here.

The paramedics were shocked when they arrived at the house and saw the two young girls performing CPR on the mom. (Most adults can't do CPR) The girls thought nothing of it, since they said they had seen it numerous times on Grey's Anatomy.

The girls performed CPR for four minutes until the paramedics came, saving the mom's life. Since the body can't go without oxygen for longer than four to six minutes, she most likely would have had brain damage IF she managed to survive the asthma attack in the first place.

I don't think my kids could do CPR if I collapsed. In fact, I'm not sure I could do CPR if they collapsed. I am certified in First Aid and CPR, but could I stay calm and use what I know? I can give a nebulizer breathing treatment with one arm tied behind my back, I've done it so many times. But CPR?

Either I need to start watching Grey's Anatomy, or I need to sign up for a refresher course for CPR.

Could you do CPR if you needed to? Are you trained? Or have you seen it enough times on TV that you feel like you could do it if you need to?

Kandace Seyferth is one of the lucky ones, 11 people will die every day in the US from an asthma attack. Think about getting trained in CPR so you would know what to do it you had to save a life from asthma or any other medical problem. You never know when you might need it. I'm sure Kandace's daughter thought the same thing. It will never happen to me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Allergy vent filters


I was at Asthma Doc's office yesterday with daughter, Kitty, who was getting her weekly allergy shots. I notice a new magazine on the table and was thumbing through it. It carries products for 'Environmental Control & Allergy Avoidance Products.' I noticed that we already use most of the products listed in their catalog. We have dust mite proof mattress covers, dust mite proof pillow cover and pillows. Air purifiers and a special filter on our furnace.

However, I have noticed a lot of dust in my house. Especially since I have a dark wood finish on my furniture-that light coating of dust drives me crazy. Especially when the sun hits it just right. I feel like I am always wiping down the tops of tables and dressers.

I'm going to try the vent filters and see if they make a difference. They claim that the filters 'stop dust and other allergens from entering your home.' I thought that's what the filter on my new furnace was supposed to be doing, but maybe I need to check out that filter and see how efficient it is.

Has anyone ever tried using vent filters under their air conditioning and heating ducts? I guess I'll try it out, if it can cut down the time I spend dusting (one of my asthma triggers) then it will be worth it.

Now if that company will just update the photo on their website and get rid of the pink carpet.