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Linda W., IL

When people ask me what it’s like to have an asthma attack, I tell them the only thing I can equate it to is climbing a tall mountain and not having enough oxygen, or breathing through a straw with very little air coming in or out. You get this panicky feeling knowing that at any moment you might need immediate medical attention.

I started taking medication for asthma when I was only three-years-old and can still vividly recall how terrifying it was to be rushed to the emergency department when I could not breathe. As I got older, my asthma seemed to stabilize, and I was fortunate to go for long periods of time without needing treatment.

My symptoms started up again during my college years. I began using my rescue inhaler more often. Eventually it got to the point where I was using my inhaler so often it wasn't really effective any more. That's when I started taking daily medication.

Even though my asthma is now well managed, it still impacts my day, every day. I'm an attorney in solo practice and always have my rescue inhaler available. At home, I have stockpiled a small emergency supply of medication just as a safety precaution. I don't like the idea of taking steroids, with all of the potential side effects, but I know that if I skip a day, within 24 hours I will be in trouble and have difficulty breathing.

I've tried alternative, holistic products, but these are just not as effective as prescription medications for the severity of my asthma. My life is really pinned to my medications. When I'm on vacation with friends, I try to keep up, but any activity could make me feel winded. I try to not make a big deal of it and try to not to show it, but I get out of breath. Where other people could keep on going, I've had to stop short and rest.

Allergies and asthma go hand in hand and I am allergic to everything, from pollen and mold to animal dander. For me, allergy season is year-round. Lately, with the erratic weather patterns we've had from climate change, I've noticed an uptick in my allergies.

In fact, for the first time in about 10 years, I had to use some of my emergency supply of medication. That's never happened before. I'm sure that the quality of our air has a lot to do with it. I'm also certain that inhaling dirty tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks have compromised my health, aggravated my asthma, and further diminished my lung capacity.

I live in Chicago and even though my home is off the main street, it's still in a congested area near a lot of traffic. You can't escape breathing in these toxins every time you step outside.

It makes me sad to think that as a country we are facing increasingly serious air quality issues. I find it hard to imagine why every individual in this country is not alarmed. It seems that many people choose to be ignorant or ignore what is happening, but if eventually we can't go outside because it's dangerous to breathe the air, then what? We must act now to implement stronger air quality safeguards to defend our right to clean air and protect public health.


First Published: April 18, 2014

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