I once had an Eastern European pulmonologist who spoke with an awesome accent and reminded me of Olek Krupa in The Italian Job (2003). He was a very nice and caring doctor, but I had this feeling I should never cross him. Back in 2007 I was in his office for the who-knows-time after another exacerbation. This time I had come home to the smell of smoke outside, the local school still burns their trash, had an asthma attack and barely made it into the house.
Have you ever thought about getting one of those bubbles to live in? You know, like that Bubble Boy movie?
Of course he was joking, but my doctor had a point. Between my seasonal allergies and hyper-reactive airways, it sometimes wasn’t and still isn’t worth going outside certain days. While living in a “bubble” or working in a “clean room” environment would probably be key for me and many others, it isn’t plausible, feasible or realistic. The important things to focus on are identifying what to avoid and when to stay inside.
Allergies come in both the indoor and outdoor varieties. Sometimes it’s easy to know what will cause you an allergic reaction, but it never hurts to see an allergist and be tested if this is a significant problem for you. I’m allergic to most local trees, grasses, ragweed, dust, dust mites, most molds/fungi and cats. Realistically I can encounter any of these inside or outside depending on the situation. I’ve had to identify homes of friends and family I cannot visit, stores and buildings I cannot enter – there’s even a movie theater in town I don’t frequent because there’s either dust, water damage or mold in there. We keep our doors and windows shut during most of the year, run our air conditioning and have a True HEPA filter that helps to keep the air clean. Be sure to keep your furnace filter changed and stay on top of all your duct filters as well. Cleaning can be a chicken-and-egg situation if dust is an issue. Obviously stirring up dust by cleaning will aggravate your condition, but waiting too long to do it, or avoiding it completely, will just add to the amount of dust in your home making you sick.
Irritants are different than allergies, but can still make you feel just as bad when encountering them Examples can include:
- Smoke – wood, trash, tobacco, etc. These all contain various particulates, chemicals and other “stuff” that can irritate and inflame your upper/lower respiratory system.
- Smog and air pollution – while this problem is often confined to heavily populated areas, it can travel or become worse when combined with weather.
- Strong odors – perfumes and colognes, cleaning chemicals/supplies, cooking smells, sewage, body odor, insect sprays, industrial glue, paint, etc
- Particulates – tiny particles in the air such as chemicals sprayed on crops, dusts and powders, soot, etc. These tiny particles of matter can be either solid or liquid and exist in the atmosphere.
- Weather – I’m including weather separately below, but wanted to point out thunderstorms can often bring unwanted guests in the form of allergens, pollutants, particulates and anything else that was stirred up on its path from Point A to you.
Weather changes and patterns show up in the form of cold winter air, hot summer air, humidity, pressure changes, etc. I have friends whose worst time is Winter with the cold air, but I can have just as much trouble with the heat and humidity in the summer. The important thing to know what affects you and how prepare.
Cold and flu season can be hard to avoid in public places and work when simple cold and viruses seem like no big deal to people. A pesky cold for an average Joe is like bronchitis for us, and bronchitis for them can be like pneumonia for us. I’ve never found a great way to breach this with co-workers, but it’s about the same as just being out in public. Try not to constantly touch your face, wash your hands, and avoid the coughing/sneezing zones if possible.
So last night I was feeling “ok” and almost forgetting I had been in the hospital just two days prior. The idea was brought up to go get some ice cream at a local place in town and that seemed like a great idea. It was neither hot nor humid outside, pollen and mold counts weren’t too bad, and I had been staying on top of my breathing treatments. So we drove the 5 miles, got our ice cream and took some seats on the picnic tables farthest from the ice cream hut. This is mainly to avoid anyone who may start smoking in line or in their cars immediately next to the building with their windows open.
Not too long later I caught a couple whiffs of smoke but it was pretty infrequent. I’m guessing we were 40 yards away or so from the building, but there was a light breeze bringing anything from that direction our way. Liz wanted to know if I should leave, but it wasn’t constant and I decided to stay. Right about the time we were ready to leave, there was more smoke and Liz decided we needed to get out of there. It’s a good thing she’s around to notice this kind of stuff because by the time I got into the car I was already losing my voice and hurting to breathe. Two albuterol nebs later I was back up to about 430 on the PF and hovering at 92% O2 saturation. I spent the next 7 hours doing treatments before I could finally fall asleep and have been completely exhausted all day. This is what it’s like to be a severe asthmatic. All I wanted was some ice cream and the people smoking weren’t even smoking in a non-smoking area or anywhere near me. It’s just what we have to deal with on a regular basis.