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Marilee F., IL

For most people with asthma, wheezing is the typical symptom that lets them know something is wrong and to make sure they have their medication handy. My symptoms are subtler and can creep up without warning.

I experience tightness in my chest and feel strangely jittery. As things get worse, I notice my heart rate increases more quickly than usual, if for example, I do an activity like walk up the stairs. It isn't until things are getting really bad that I begin to wheeze or feel short of breath.

Last weekend, these warning signs kept coming and going until finally I drove myself to the emergency department. We're right at the start of spring allergy season and my allergies are really impacting my quality of life. They're also aggravating my asthma. I feel tired and lightheaded. I'm not breathing well and my head feels like it could explode. I am a licensed clinical professional counselor and on days like this, it's harder to focus on my work.

I didn't have asthma as a child. I was in my 30s when I first went to see my doctor about a lingering cough. When he said I had asthma, I was surprised. I had always thought of it as a children's disease. That's part of the reason I wanted to share my story.

There may be many other adults out there who have subtle symptoms similar to mine and who may not realize that their health could be in jeopardy. My allergies aren't just confined to spring. They are year-round, including in the winter. As soon as the snow starts to melt, I can begin to feel my symptoms increase. And of course, that puts me at risk for an asthma attack.

My asthma is not as severe as some people experience, but it is still a burden to deal with a chronic medical condition, especially now that I am a single parent. My husband passed away in 2008, and I have two children.

On days when I'm not feeling well, I'm not the kind of mom I would like to be. I get tired and am probably more irritable. I'm also not inclined to go outdoors or be active because my symptoms would get worse.

From a medical standpoint, I get concerned about what would happen if I got the flu, which would greatly escalate my asthma symptoms and put me at risk for pneumonia. My doctor also told me that with asthma I'm more likely to have complications after surgery. I don't like knowing this, given that I'm an only parent. It doesn't take an expert to realize that allergies and asthma go hand in hand and both seem to be on the rise.

My allergist said he believes the increase in allergies and asthma may be due in part to the poor quality of our air and the escalation of carbon pollution in our environment. I know that on high ozone alert days when the air is particularly dirty, I feel much worse physically. Even if it's a beautiful day, I have to stay inside, which is such a shame, but I know it's not worth putting myself at greater risk.

I can't imagine what it would be like not to have lung disease. That's why I am very concerned about issues like clean air. I cannot understand why anyone would want to strike down safeguards to protect the air we breathe. As a country, we can no longer afford to allow carbon pollution to go unchecked into the outdoor environment and contribute to the rise of such important major public health issues as asthma.


First Published: April 17, 2014

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