Day in the Life: Breathing

Most days I use my inhaler pretty soon after waking.  What does asthma have to do with being fat?

For a long time I didn’t think it was asthma; I thought I was just fat and out of shape.  I took Claritin to keep my allergies under control, yes, but I didn’t have asthma.  I might be panting walking up hill sometimes, or climbing stairs, sometimes even weezing, but that just means I’m fat and out of shape. Right?

After an encounter with way too much woodsmoke, I admitted to myself that it wasn’t just allergies. (I could almost feel my lungs close.) Once I accepted it might be asthma, it occurred to me that it usually was easier for me to walk uphill after it had rained.  Cleaner air?   Hm.

I described my symptoms to my (new) ARNP, who exclaimed, “Exercise-induced asthma!”  She began typing on her computer. “I will prescribe an inhaler.  Use the inhaler, 2 puffs, at least 20 minutes before exercising!  Two puffs, twenty minutes, okay?”

How do I explain the difference my asthma treatment makes?  Oh, yes.  Occasionally I do a Woman At Large aerobics tape.  15 and 20 minutes in, there’s the usual “let’s all check our pulse” bit.

  • If I’ve used my inhaler, my pulse is between 140 and 150 (“target zone”) and I’m keeping up with the exercises.
  • If I haven’t used my inhaler, my pulse is between 110 and 120…and I’m usually having trouble keeping up.

In both cases, I will be flushed, breathing a bit hard but still able to talk, and generally feel like I’m exerting myself at a good level. But I’m doing more work and getting a better cardiovascular workout with my inhaler.

What sucks about the asthma treatment?  The inhaler doesn’t kick in right away (hence the “20 minutes before” rule) and wears off a few hours later.  If I forget to use it in advance, then I’m stuck in my less-able-to-exercise mode for at least 20 minutes.  (If I forget to carry it with me, then I’m stuck in general.)

When I do use it, I can exercise at a better level than I’m used to. Since getting to work these days usually involves walking, I use my inhaler shortly after getting up so that I will be able to walk as briskly as I can. :)

Getting back to asthma and being fat… My ability to exercise was constrained by untreated asthma.  Now that my asthma is treated, I can exercise longer, more frequently, and more effectively.

I don’t know if the lack of exercise due to asthma made me fatter.  I do think it prevented me from exercising.

Do I still get out of breath sometimes?  Sure.  But not as quickly as I used to. :)


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15 responses to “Day in the Life: Breathing”

  1. lifetraveler Avatar
    lifetraveler

    Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been susceptible to lung infections, pneumonia, basically any kind of respiratory problem. I have always been large and I always thought the reason I had problems was due to my size. NOT ONCE did anyone ever consider asthma, until I went to a new doctor last year (at age 41) with yet another severe lung infection. The doctor said I have asthma that is induced from allergies, infections, etc.

    Over a period of a few months we tested my lung capacity, breathing abilities both when my lungs were clear and when they were full. I do not have the symptoms when my lungs are clear, but as soon as I get sick, hello asthma.

    I only use an inhaler when I’m sick, but it has made a world of difference in how long it takes me to heal and how severe my illnesses are.

    The doctor told me that he believes I wasn’t cared for properly because other doctors were probably blaming my issues on my weight. He said that people blame weight for everything, but weight is often a symptom of something else wrong. He also said, and sometimes, weight is just weight, it cannot be the cause of everything. So yeah, I’m keeping this doctor!

  2. Tari Avatar

    Great post! A great example of how anti-fat prejudice works to keep fat people from seeking healthcare.

  3. Louise Avatar
    Louise

    I had the same problem – asthma untreated for years because doctors blamed it on being fat.

    Have you considered asking your doctor for a preventative to use in conjunction with a reliever? I used to only have the reliever inhaler (albuterol) for exercise and cold-induced asthma. But the new drugs are pretty good: I have Advair Diskus now, which is a combination of flucatisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, and salmeterol, a 12-hour bronchodilator. My lungs are feeling fabulous! :) I take one dose in the morning and one at night, and my use of the albuterol has gone way down, I only need to take it before exercise if I know I’m going to be going quite hard now.

    Also, you can get a better dosing of the albuterol if you use a spacer (if it’s convenient), it’s like a plastic chamber you spray the inhaler into and then inhale from the chamber. You get your dose dispersed more evenly through your lungful of air and the albuterol gets around your whole lung to relieve the constriction evenly.

    (Sorry if you already knew this!)

  4. living400lbs Avatar

    In my case, it was that I blamed the issue on my weight, not the doctor. It’s hard to get medical help for something you don’t tell your doctor about! But why did I believe it was because I’m fat? Hm….

    At the moment I’m essentially using the albuterol as a preventative, which may be weird in itself. I’m also using antihistamines to reduce both mucous and dermatitis.

    And yes, I have a spacer. :)

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  9. yaoirox666 Avatar
    yaoirox666

    So glad you found out what was wrong and got help. :D

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  11. intravenoustherapy Avatar

    As a fellow asthmatic, I feel your pain. I had asthma as a kid, which I thought i grew out of, but when I had a smoker for a flatmate, I realised that it probably wasn’t just gone like I thought it was. I’m about 160 pounds and didn’t bring it up with my doctor for about 8 months (at which time it was getting progressively worse) because I thought she’d dismiss it for me being fat. Anyway – I brought it up with her, and she did lung function tests, etc. and found that my lung function was poor. Put me on asmol (ventolin) and a preventative and it helped. Encouraged me to use a spacer and 6 months later, I have the best managed asthma I’ve had all through my life! Makes me feel so much better!

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