Monday, February 24, 2014

Allergic Asthma: The “Cure” Pushers

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for asthma at this point.  On the other hand, there are many new and interesting findings in alternative medicine to treat chronic diseases like asthma and allergies.  While this is something I’m very excited about, I like to address the troubling issue of asthma cure and remedy pushers in the alternative medicine field.  These pushers can be anyone from professionals or semi-professionals in a certain area of wellness, to lifestyle changes your friends or neighbors might suggest to you. 


I am all for alternatives, doing things the natural way, and putting less chemicals in or on my body.  But managing my asthma needs to be done reasonably and safely.  False advertisement of a cure is not safe.  Quite frankly, advising someone with a chronic disease to willy-nilly abandon the medication in favor of starting a lifestyle change seems reckless and dangerous.   But that’s the trend I am seeing.  It’s either one way or the other.  It’s either traditional medicine or alternative medicine and lifestyle changes.

In general, I am highly skeptical of any asthma and allergy treatment or product—natural or otherwise—that claims to be a “cure” for my ailment.  I agree that some natural therapies and approaches help to manage symptoms of my allergic asthma.  For instance, avoidance of allergens and triggers, aerobic fitness to strengthen lung function, and consuming nutritious foods to maximize the body's immune defense.  But it’s not a cure!  Just like any medication for asthma and allergies, most of these lifestyle changes might work really well to manage one’s asthma and allergies, but they aren’t cures.  Sometimes, I feel people don’t understand this.  Most everybody can form an opinion on this topic from conventional knowledge and the genuine desire to help someone. 

For example, in the beginning of 2014, yoga instructor and wellness coach Rachel Brathen, used her popular online platform to share her opinion on asthma management.  In form of a heartfelt and sometimes gut-wrenchingly honest article, the author related her lifelong asthma journey, but in the end the message was clear:  follow my lifestyle because just like me, you won’t need your medication.  According to the article, it was her fiancé that insisted “you don’t need this [rescue inhaler]” and hence Brathen’s new year’s resolution: “This year, I will run.  I will breathe.   And I will not use my inhaler.”   

Understandably, some people are against conventional medication and doctors and like to choose alternative ways to heal their body.  Unfortunately, this trend often goes hand in hand with shaming anyone who needs medication to feel guilty for putting toxins into their body.  Rachel Brathen’s article is one example for this type of body shaming.  Brathen’s fiancé made her feel guilty for keeping a rescue-inhaler for emergencies and now she is leading by example, implying that asthma is a matter of determination and mindset. 

As much as I would like to belief that a wholesome vegan lifestyle and exercise will build my body into a temple of health and beauty, it’s not that simple.  Sometimes it isn’t just mind over matter, changing ones diet, going all natural, exercising and wellness.  And that’s what alternative allergy and asthma treatments are missing in my opinion:  moderation.  When it comes to breathing we are all the same, asthmatic or not.  We all need to breathe.   It should be OKAY if someone needs medication to breathe.   And it’s OKAY if some individual feels that they can manage their asthma without medication.  At the same time, this decision shouldn't be influenced by blame and body-shaming of any kind.  And as well-meaning as some advocates of lifestyle changes may be, I don’t think everyone should cold turkey follow someone’s advise, go vegan, start yoga and assume this makes them invincible.

I am not going to ritually kiss my asthma medication goodbye and throw it into the garbage bin.  I can’t predict how long it will take for lifestyle changes to strengthen my body (I have been a strict vegetarian for 20 years and I am continuously adjusting my lifestyle).  I can’t say, I can safeguard myself indefinitely from all allergens and triggers.  What if something freaky happens that’s completely out of my control and I die because I am insisting to treat asthma only the natural way.  It is unreasonable to assume I can protect myself from everything.  I also think it’s so dangerous to advice people to throw out their medication, but it is something I have seen health gurus suggest (in health literature, but especially online). 

While I am desperately hoping for a cure for my allergic asthma, I am under no illusion that I might have to walk through my entire life with a chronic disease.  Because of it, I like to look at alternative medicine from a more meditative standpoint:  a continuous repetition of good self-care.  In this way it is easier for me to accept that health is not accomplished in a day, a week or even months—it’s a lifetime maintenance commitment.  And as depressing as this may seem in my weakest and bleakest moments, knowing this gives me hope:  I can nurture and heal my body… and I have to do it every day.

I would like to stress that I am not going to shame or blame anyone for how they manage their asthma and take care of their body.  On the other hand, I am not in favor of unsolicited preaching of so-called cures.

StayHealthy♡ Nina

Disclaimer:  Thank you to everyone who takes the time out to read the things I have to say.  I am not an expert or professional!  My advice is genuine and based on my own experience as a severely allergic asthmatic.  I am hoping my writing can suggest reasonable solutions to anyone that may need it and maybe bring awareness to those interested in the topic.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Post Asthma Attack

Asthma is long-term chronic inflammatory disease.  It takes a while for lungs to recover fully from a severe attack, sometimes days and sometimes several weeks. 
If you don’t have asthma, this might come as a surprise to you.  Nowadays, most people understand the basics of what’s going on during an asthma attack but the long term after affects are rarely discussed.  Unfortunately, when the initial asthma attack is over, you’re not okay.  You’re most likely drugged up on the medication that stopped the most acute breathing problems.  Now, you're physically and mentally exhausted and the body is trying to recover.

During this time of recovery, breathing will be shallow and you may have minor attacks.  You'll need to take it easy and be extra careful to avoid anything that tends to trigger your asthma, such as allergens, cigarette smoke, extreme temperatures, dust, or pollen.  Depending on the place you live, you may also want to monitor the air quality in your city and avoid spending time outside on smoggy days.  
It's possible that you may need to use a rescue inhaler and other medication daily or even a few times during the day to prevent another asthma attack.  The body might actively deal with inflammation, expelling of toxins and drug side effects which can be very exhausting.  Getting rest or a good night’s sleep might be difficult to achieve since the horizontal makes it much harder to breathe, exacerbating the body’s overall fatigue.  


For the sake of this article, I would like to discuss my most recent and asthma attack I suffered this year.  After the asthma attack, I was unwilling to cancel my plans despite feeling lousy.  I was supposed to go snow tubing with my family and I thought bitterly “that might just be the one place people don’t bring their dog, so I should go.”  
Don’t cancel!  
Don’t be a burden and ruin it for everyone!  It will be fun.  
Not as fun as if I’d be healthy since I will feel unusually cold, weak and sort of dazed.  
I might really benefit from the cardio and the positive social interactions.  
I will get fresh air deep into my lungs and I will hopefully breathe out some of the nasties.  
But most importantly, I won’t sit at home crying with my beaten down body trying and waiting to recover.  

So I bundled my feverish body into so many layers until I resembled the Michelin man and carried a hot water bottle with me for extra warmth.  I also ate a very minimal, but tasty breakfast.  After an asthma attack, I generally don’t have an appetite for and I can’t stomach anything but simple, clean and raw foods.


covered my face in anti-rash cream and make-up so that the post asthma boils on my cheeks wouldn’t make me look diseased.  For those who wonder about this part, I usually break out on my cheeks and upper lip after an asthma attack.
I felt like I was bullying my body to do what I wanted to do.  I did fine all day, but at the same time I wasn’t fine.  It’s like having the flu and you drag yourself places despite of it, forcing a smile and an upbeat attitude.  All the while you feel drained, heavy, achy and strangely floating through your day.  In these moments I feel like I'm not really part of life even though I want to be there so badly.  

And what are you supposed to do in these moments when you’re still feeling so unwell?  Are you supposed to hide in our own space until you feel better? Are you supposed to be all gentle and nurturing to your body or is it acceptable to kick your health into gear?  Are you suppose to hide how you’re feeling and doing or is it acceptable to share your pain with others?  The situation gets really squirmy for everybody listening if I say: “I had a bad asthma attack last night and I slept two hours, I’m hopped up on my medication, I’m feverish, my ribcage feels bruised, I’m itchy and I have large, gross boils on my cheeks.”  It doesn't seem like an acceptable thing for me to say today or any other day until I'm fully recovered from the asthma attack.  If you have asthma, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  It's really difficult to share with others what asthma does to you.  And too often sympathetic people like to come up with a solution or a cure:
- "Have you seen such and such type of specialist about your asthma."
- "Have you tried using essential oils?"
- "You should expose yourself to your allergens more and desensitize yourself!"  
- "You should drink apple cider vinegar!  It will cure your lungs!"

🙈 😳
Seriously.  Discussion what it's like to have asthma is not easy and it's why I share how it's like for me living with asthma.

Now the following list shows symptoms that linger after the initial asthma attacked passed:

Shortness of breath. Even if I say after the asthma attack, shortness of breath is a major source of distress.  Breathing may be shallower and more rapid and the muscles at the base of the neck and between the ribs may be more exaggerated than normal.  Being hunched over in order to make breathing easier, sore shoulders, back pain and a sore ribcage from lungs that expanded and weren’t able to properly breathe out during the asthma attack are physical long term affects.  However, in some cases it might be difficult to know how well one’s lungs function.  As a child, being medicated for asthma daily and under constant doctor’s supervision, I often did not feel as short of breath or uncomfortable as would be expected from measurements of my lung function or oxygen levels.  To my understanding at the time, my physical condition was significantly better then being in the midst of one of my serious and sometimes life-threatening asthma attacks.  Not until my later teens did I know what real breathing is like.  I wondered miserably, if this is how a normal person feels like every day, what was I doing?

Wheezing when breathing out is nearly always present during an attack and often afterwards too. Wheezing is a whistling sound caused by narrowed airways do to inflammation.  This inflammation will have to heal after the asthma attack and it can take days or weeks depending how severe the asthma attack was or how successful the asthmatic avoided exposure to new triggers (allergic or secondary triggers).

Inflammation. The end of an attack is often marked by a cough that produces thick, stringy mucus.  After the initial acute attack, inflammation lasts for days to weeks, often without symptoms. The inflammation itself must still be treated, however, because it usually causes relapse or could lead to chronic inflammation which can damage the lungs.

Sweating and flu-like symptoms.  An asthma attack is intensely taxing on the body and could sometimes lead to hot flashes during and after the attack.  On the other hand, in the hours, sometimes even days after the attack I am often unable to feel comfortably warm.

Skin rash, itchy and dry skin.

Fatigue and poor sleep.  Severe asthma really affects a person’s quality of life.  In the days after an asthma attack, I'm very easily fatigued and this can make the most basic daily activities a struggle.  Sometimes it is unclear if I'm fatigued from the attack or because my body is working overtime to fight infection, fighting allergens and thus uses much of my energy in healing processes.  In addition to fatigue and weakness, having trouble breathing can make sleeping at night difficult.  Poor sleep or the lack thereof then only worsens the fatigue. 

Coughing.  Coughing is one of the most obvious and outward symptom of asthma.  Coughing continues after the asthma attack as the body deals with the mucus and inflammation of the airways.  Sometime, especially in combination with a cold, this cough can be even more distressing than wheezing or sleep disturbances.

Chest tightness or pain.  While chest tightness and pain may be an early indicator of a serious attack, afterwards the ribcage in the chest area might feel bruised on the inside from the expanded lung during the asthma attack.

Rapid heart rate.  Over-exhaustion of the body and lungs may lead to a racing heart, but often the culprit for this symptom is a medication side effect.

 StayHealthy♡ Nina

If you enjoyed this article then you may also like my other asthma articles:
How to Rid your Home of Asthma Triggers?
Decontamination Action Plan
Allergic Asthma: The “Cure” Pushers
Psychological Effects of Asthma
Social Adversity of an Allergic Asthmatic

Thank you to everyone who takes the time out to read the things I have to say. I'm not an expert or professional! My advice is genuine and based on my own experience as a severely allergic asthmatic. I'm hoping my writing can be an example to anyone that may need it and maybe bring awareness to those interested in the topic.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Simple Chore Schedule

The fewer things I have by default the better.  This also makes cleaning much less of a maintenance issue.  I am always seeking to minimalize, simplify and to make steps towards a more intentional way of living.  Apart from the obvious concerns of cleaning everyday messes and allergens, I have always been attracted to clean and uncluttered spaces.  The kind of spaces that make some people go “Oh, it’s so empty, so bare, it needs something!”

I’ve been in houses where every nook and cranny was filled with something.  No space was left unadorned, no horizontal area left uncovered by a figurine or souvenirs, trinkets or other pieces of home decor.  Why?  What is the fascination with clutter? 

In our first shared apartment, my husband fought me over the same issue.  He wanted to decorate the walls (with pictures, maps, banners and quite possibly his hat collection) until he visited with our neighbors in an identical apartment and felt claustrophobic and overwhelmed in their space.  The apartment felt tiny and dark due to all the wall-hangings, it was over-furnished and cluttered with belongings.  I don't like to meddle in other people's business and I belief everyone has a reason why they act they way they do.  To each his own!  However, I am mentioning this couple in the flat next to us because their relationship eventually fell apart and the man moved out because of the mess.  He claimed, all the clutter and stuff in the apartment didn't provide room enough to accommodate him adequately.

This is the point where it gets problematic.  It is no good if your life is negatively affected by your belongings or the state of your home.  I wouldn't want to feel uneasy in my own space because there is so much going on, or because it is so unkempt and dirty.  I wouldn't want to be the person who cleans like a fiend in order to avoid embarrassment just so I could have visitors.

Bright spaces, clean lines and the lack of adornment make me feel at peace and relaxed.  It is like a natural stress reliever.  As a child I didn't always have to opportunity to be in spaces that were allergy-free, clean and orderly.  At some point, I became aware of feeling better every time I was in a clean and clutter-free place.  I felt like I could actually breathe, feel inspired by it's clean beauty and be at peace.

When it comes to our home, my aim to keep things simple and clean help to keep our home free of unmanageable clutter and it also makes it easier to maintain a healthy, allergen-free living space.
The flip side of this issue is my tendency to go to the extreme, where I become a perfectionist and freak out if things aren’t done in absolutely the best way.  I have a hard time finding a balance, where things are done and organized but they aren’t perfect and I’m still ok with that.

Since living with my husband my daily to-do-list folded significantly to a small point on which it once read: Bring every room back to "ready."  In the beginning, we decided to tackle our chores in daily 15 minute increments.  We delegated our attention to areas that felt most essential and called it our "15 Minute Clean!"  Often, we scrubbed and tidied for 15 minutes only to get inspired to tackle the odd deep cleaning project.  On other days, the time ran out and we were quite happy with the result.  Over time, we developed the following list of guidelines that work well to keep our home tidy.

If you're in the mood to get inspired and keep your home clean without needing to set aside hours at a time then look no further.

Simple Chore Schedule.
Save this image to your computer, print it out or use it as inspiration for your own cleaning schedule!


Thank you to everyone who takes the time out to read the things I have to say.   I am not an expert or professional!  My advice is genuine and based on my own experience as a severely allergic asthmatic.   I am hoping my writing can suggest reasonable solutions to anyone that may need it and maybe bring awareness to those interested in the topic.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Psychological Effects of Asthma

Each person’s experience with asthma is different but many asthmatics commonly experience feelings of social stigma, embarrassment, blame and self-blame. 
This idea isn’t news to me but recent events brought the topic fresh into my mind.  A few days ago, I had what I like to call an “asthma fail.”  That is to say, I failed to judge my environment properly and I failed to take appropriate self-care.  (The details:  I visited a museum that explicitly stated it did not allow dogs and I went out to lunch with my family without going through my excessive decontamination practices.  I only washed my hands and face before changing into freshly laundered clothing when I returned home.)  I paid for such reckless neglect with a full-blown asthma attack in the wee hours of the night.
WHAT?  Even as I am writing this down now, I am shocked by my rational.  It’s not healthy to think this way!  Sure, my asthma attack was a consequence of my actions but I certainly do not deserve to suffer.
At the time of my asthma attack, I was embarrassed and furious at myself and my body.  I was mad, disconnected from whom I am, physically exhausted and emotionally tapped out.  I kept saying “This is not fair!” and referred to “my misbehaving body” in the third person: “You’re lucky it’s not 2050 because I would so leave you behind and move on without you!”  It wasn’t a pretty sight and it was hours filled with self-loathing, blame and embarrassment.
On a happier note, I did eventually snap out of it.  And it is good to find and restore your humility after feeling so gutted.

I recommend reading The Secret’s meditation on health. It is beautiful and sad to read, especially after recent experience of great pain, fear of death and bouts of self-loathing.

Social Stigma and Embarrassment

I feel nervous to talk about the psychological effects of allergic asthma as it is a sensitive topic and because I can only speak of my own experiences.  I stared this blog partly because I am tired of having to hide the reality of living and coping with asthma and because it is often difficult and embarrassing to talk about it.  
Most obviously, my often poor physical state, vulnerability and helplessness are topics embarrassing to discuss.  Simple inquisitive statements like “tell me about your attack” and well meaning “I hope you figure your asthma out soon and get well” are conversation starters more loaded than you expect them to be.  Misunderstandings, misconceptions, gaps of asthma specific knowledge and the differences between the realities of asthmatics and non-asthmatics can be alienating.  Asthma is a serious disease, but few people can truly understand how dangerous it can be.  For example, it is easy to underestimate allergic asthma when thinking allergies equals sniffles and itchiness instead of causing life-threating symptoms that need medical attention.
For some people it is even difficult to believe you’re ill if there is nothing much to be seen.  “How does it hurt as much as you say it does…you don’t look too bad?”  “Why can’t you do or take something for it and move on with your life?”  People who have seen me have an asthma attack or taken off in an ambulance tend to be much more understanding than those who haven’t.  Yet, my yearning for inclusion, understanding and sometimes empathy doesn’t mean I am going to have a show-and-tell for everyone.  I would like to preserve some of my dignity.  Not breathing is a strange pain and sadly, it is more painful than you expect it to be.
In addition, the dependency on medication is embarrassing and sometimes even controversial.  Sure, it is off-putting for me to take an inhaler and medication in public or in front of people.  However, to my surprise, having to rely on medication this urgently is shocking to most people.  It does not help to be criticized for drugs you take in an emergency or drugs necessary to manage asthma.  Medication drugs are often harshly criticized for the negative impact they have on the body even though those same drugs are critical to the asthmatics well-being and survival.  On the other hand, taking a stand against traditional medicine and drugs is equally controversial.  Ultimately, anyone with an opinion might blame you for taking medication or they might blame you if you don’t.   
Feeling of Blame and Guilt with Asthma
I just recently started to admit to having allergic asthma (to dogs, easily most people’s favorite animal) to anyone who’ll listen.  I am no longer ashamed to speak my mind but it is also not an easy topic to discuss.
Asthma is difficult to discuss because it is a variable condition that affects everyone differently and everyone deals with it differently, too.  For this reason, your friends, family, your partner, work colleagues or boss may have a lot of questions or opinions about your asthma prompted by genuine concern, puzzlement or even sheer curiosity.  It can be frustrating, humiliating and hurtful when you have to explain yourself.  My body and my health are deeply personal to me and it is not something I’d like to discuss with just anyone.  It's your choice who you choose to tell and how much detail you want to offer.  There is no point to explain your medical history to someone who’s strongly opinionated and pessimistic.  However, most people are well-meaning and like to help as best they can; often offering “cures” that worked in their life: their trusted doctor, chiropractor, holistic treatment or special dietary regiment.  Explaining myself further and disagreeing to try their suggestions burdens me to think I deserve to suffer because I don’t listen.  Did someone just offer me a solution that would make all my allergy and asthma symptoms disappear and I am perversely not taking it?
Apart from explaining my asthma and justifying my coping and treatment mechanisms, I also struggle with a variety of difficult questions on a regular basis.  Who is to blame?  And what’s the cause (of asthma)?  Even speculations on the matter could be tremendously difficult and hurtful (to the asthmatic, relatives and friends). 
Who is to blame? 
The asthmatic?  The environment?  Family and friends?  The doctor? 

Logically, the blame falls mostly onto the one who’s ill.  Caught up in this game of finding blame, this person might then go pointing fingers elsewhere.  Admittedly, I tend to snap when I’m caught in my less graceful moments.  I understand it’s not beneficial to have an elevator pitch for my asthma with its main point saying “back off,” however; dropping the conversation is often favorable to swallowing ignorance, blame and accusations.  These are the things I never say:
“I suppose it’s my fault that (insert hurtful personal incident/resentment here) and now I’m inconvenience everyone by being ill.  Sorry to bother you!  I suppose you’re right, I just haven’t seen the right doctor yet.  The one with the miracle drug that will cure me with the special thing he does.  I guess I just haven’t thought more than three minutes about it!    Are you kidding me?  I had allergic asthma since childhood and it is not news to me like it is to you…”
My point is none of the blame and accusations help anyone feel better.  Proper insight into the reality of an asthmatic might undo the unnecessary psychological burdens that come with asthma.  Minimizing the psychological effects is necessary for physical well-being and happy relationships.  None of which can be achieved by keeping asthma a secret or with an elevator pitch that pushes people away.  Likewise, opening up to anyone with an opinion on asthma can be stressful and frustrating.  To the asthmatic I’d say: be kind and tactfully avoid an argument.  To the non-asthmatic I’d say: be kind because anyone who is unwell needs forces of healing, instead of alienation, pessimism or blame.


Thank you to everyone who takes the time out to read the things I have to say.  I am not an expert or professional!   My advice is genuine and based on my own experience as a severely allergic asthmatic.   I am hoping my writing can suggest reasonable solutions to anyone that may need it and maybe bring awareness to those interested in the topic.