I grew up in Southern California from 1995 until 2013 when I left the state to go to college. I don’t remember how old I was when I was diagnosed with asthma, but it was early enough that I can’t ever remember not having it. When I was in grade school, my asthma wasn’t awful. It was manageable and I mostly had to deal with allergies. But once I got to middle school, it became much more severe.
Every year it got worse, and by sixth grade I was using my rescue inhaler at least twice a day. My doctor put me on a preventative inhaler for a while but I found that it made my asthma worse so I stopped using it. He then decided that I was just ‘abusing’ my medication and/or was addicted to my inhaler. So instead of looking for other solutions to helping treat and manage my asthma, he severely reduced my refills from three for three months (I would use about one per month) to one for three months. This forced me to ration my inhaler doses. I started using only one puff instead of two when I used it, and it was a huge source of anxiety for me, always worrying about running out.
I remember in eighth grade, during the Santa Ana wind season, my inhaler stopped helping. I took multiple doses at once and it didn’t do anything. It got so bad that I couldn’t stand up or walk because I couldn’t breathe, and I would get dizzy and fall over. I was taken to the hospital and my mother was given the option to have me hospitalized or to take home a nebulizer. We took the machine and for the next week I had to do a breathing treatment every four hours, and I basically lived on the couch.
After that incident, I continued to use my inhaler too much, and whenever it stopped being effective, I would switch to using the nebulizer to get it under control again. By the time I got to college, I was using my rescue inhaler about 5 times per day, on average. And every three months or so, like clockwork, my asthma would get so out of control that I would end up in the ER where I got oral medication to get it under control again.
I lived like that for years until I finally met a doctor that was actually concerned by how much I was using my medications. I had lived my entire life until then, thinking that it was a mental dependency and that it was all in my head. But he put me on a steroid inhaler that to this day I use twice a day every day. I was shocked to find that, after just a week on the steroid, my asthma was getting a lot easier to manage. I was using my inhaler less and having fewer attacks, and I wasn’t waking up unable to breathe. I realized that no, it wasn’t in my head, and I’m still rather angry at my childhood doctor for assuming that I was abusing my inhaler instead of actually helping me to treat it. I went through a lot of pain, anxiety, and medical bills over the years because of it.
But now, thankfully, I rarely have to use my inhaler. I went from carrying it everywhere with me and using it many times a day to using it maybe once or twice a month, if that. I also don’t end up in the ER when my asthma really flare up, I can just use my nebulizer and be back to normal after a few days. I’d like to think that most doctors nowadays wouldn’t do what mine did, but I’m sure theres many people, especially children, who aren’t being treated properly because they either don’t have the means or don’t know any better, like I did.
I hope that my story, and most likely many many others like mine will be noticed, and I hope that people and health care providers can be made aware of how important it is to properly diagnose and treat people correctly instead of assuming or thinking that the patient is ‘exaggerating.’ Thank you for reading.