Asthma attacks can happen at any time

Photo of young man sitting on the steps (PantherMedia / Patrick Randriamanampisoa)

Daniel, 34 years old

"Fortunately, I know how to manage my asthma. If my peak flow rate drops very suddenly, I know which medication I have to take. I don’t have to call an ambulance every time it happens."

I grew up with asthma. Living with asthma attacks and the problems associated with them has always been a part of my life. I felt like an outsider as a child. In those days children who had asthma weren’t allowed to do sports. Being an active child, I always wanted to join in but was often told to stop and by no means exert myself.

After turning 16 my symptoms got worse. I found it very difficult to cope with at first because there were more and more things that I couldn't do. I couldn’t go to parties because of the cigarette smoke and had to avoid large gatherings. I wasn’t allowed to do any strenuous exercise or travel very far.

When I was about 19 years old I found a lung specialist who made me feel I was in very good hands. He was the first doctor who really explained asthma to me and put me on the right medication.

I had to quit my job

After leaving school, I began an apprenticeship in the chemical industry. Unfortunately, I was exposed to substances that irritated my lungs so much I had to quit. Looking back now, I suppose we really should have seen that coming. So I changed career paths and spent several years working in the service sector until my asthma became so bad that I started having attacks without any warning. I'm now considered to be disabled and can no longer work. It’s pretty tough for me to deal with. I always used to enjoy working. It’s especially frustrating on days when I’m feeling good and think I ought to be working. But towards the end of my professional life I was having about three attacks a week, sometimes at work. I had no choice but to leave.

In the early days, when I was a child, I had allergic asthma. That changed over time. Nowadays I have mixed asthma. Most of my attacks aren’t caused by a specific trigger. One thing I know is that cigarette smoke can trigger an attack, and so can some perfumes and physical exertion. I also react strongly to sudden changes in the weather, such as fog. But I often simply don’t know what has caused it.

I get asthma attacks during the daytime and at night. It usually starts off as a tight feeling in my chest, then pretty soon after I start to wheeze and my lungs make a sort of bubbling sound. It becomes difficult to breathe out. I always compare it to trying to breathe out through a very thin straw. That might help people to imagine what it feels like.

I have an emergency plan

Fortunately, I've had good training and know how to manage my asthma. If my peak flow rate drops very suddenly, I know which medication I have to take. This means that I don’t have to call an ambulance every time it happens. I try to sort it out myself. I have an emergency action plan that helps me stay calm whenever I have an attack.

Sometimes I feel fine for a long period of time, but I know that I could have an attack at any moment and quickly end up with serious breathing difficulties. I always have that in the back of my mind when I'm planning to go out. Over time, though, I have learned not to panic. Despite the severity of my asthma, I feel I have it under control.

I’m not scared anymore. There were times when it was a big problem for me. I couldn’t or didn’t want to accept the way things were. Nowadays I know how to cope with it. I no longer worry about it. It took a while for me to reach this point, though.

I take medication three times a day – in the morning, at lunch, in the evening – and whenever the need arises otherwise. For about the last seven years I 've been taking steroid tablets. I feel fine about taking them. I don’t really have a choice. But it was difficult at first. I always tried to avoid using steroids. I always used to think that they were dangerous because of the side effects they can have. But I now know that they really help and that I feel better if I take them. Every now and again I worry about what they might be doing to my body otherwise, but I haven’t noticed any side effects yet.

You can live quite well with asthma nowadays

I try to enjoy life as much as I can. I love being in nature and around animals. If I’m not feeling well, I go somewhere where I can relax. I’m the kind of person who needs a lot of peace and quiet. Sometimes I get the feeling that my family and friends worry about it more than I do. I can imagine how unpleasant it must be for them to see me in the hospital, hooked up to all sorts of machinery. The first time my girlfriend saw me in that state, she was very upset. It really got to her.

I think it's important to find out all you can about the illness, and accept that you have it. I also believe it's a good idea to get a second medical opinion. In my experience, it's possible to live a good life with asthma despite having to cope with the symptoms.


Acknowledgment

Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.