In 2002, when there was actually a ring of fire around Missoula, I could hardly breathe, because the air was so thick with smoke. Even indoors, it was difficult to catch my breath sometimes. My chest would get really tight, and I'd get a pounding headache. It felt like I'd been holding my breath – only I wasn't.
Finally, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with asthma. Daily medication now keeps my asthma in check, but if I'm around people wearing strong cologne or perfumes, I have to leave the area and use my rescue inhaler.
Missoula is a beautiful place to live, but every spring the preventative burns start in preparation for the summer wildfire season. It doesn't take much for our air quality to dip into unsafe territory and that always means breathing challenges for me.
My daughter also has asthma, but her condition is worse in winter. She was five when her asthma was diagnosed, but her asthma symptoms had really begun much earlier, when she was only four months old. I remember many nights where we would be up all night, sitting in a recliner and keeping her upright so she could breath, just listening to her cough and wheeze continuously.
Now that she's 30, her asthma is under better control, but she still wheezes and coughs a lot. If she catches a cold, she can go from zero to a full-blown attack very quickly.
Asthma medications are very, very expensive. Fortunately, my insurance pays 70 percent of the cost, but out-of-pocket expenses for my daily medication and the rescue inhaler still come to $200 every three months. I can't imagine what it must be like for people on a limited income or without insurance, especially if they have children with asthma.
I applaud the efforts to clean up our air quality. I wish we had better mass transit in our country so there would be fewer cars contributing to our dirty air, but we don't. I have read that setting stricter standards on emissions for gasoline and cars would be the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road. For my family, and myself, that is definitely a concept we can embrace.