It Took Nearly 3 Decades, but I Got My Asthma Diagnosis — Now I Can Finally Breathe During Cardio
As a born and raised New Yorker, the air I've taken been breathing my whole life definitely hasn't been the cleanest. During my childhood, 9/11 occurred while I was in elementary school. I vividly remember coughing constantly every time I went downtown in the days following the event. At the same time, I was overweight with heart issues, so back then, doctor visits consisted mainly of the doctor telling me that the source of all of my breathing issues was because I was overweight.
That pattern continued through middle school and high school into adulthood. As an adult, I was finally able to piece together a pattern of having trouble breathing that led to my asthma diagnosis. Keep reading to find out how I put the pieces together that allowed for me to finally have my new best friend: my asthma pump.
Breathing Troubles in Childhood
In middle school, at 11 years old, our gym class took the pacer test and had to complete a one-mile run by going around our school four times since we didn't have a track. Coming into the final lap, I felt this tight thump in my chest, then my left arm had a sharp pain, and everything went blurry. As this was happening, the gym teacher, who was running behind me, just brushed off my symptoms as me overreacting from having to run.
But after 20 minutes of help from friends who fanned me and got me water in the locker room, I felt good enough to continue with my school day. With an event like that, I ended up in the doctor's office and the cardiologist said that I most likely had a minor heart attack and that I had to lose weight or I wouldn't see 30 years old. At such a young age, even though I was in dance classes regularly and actively participated in gym class, my doctors always dismissed my breathing problems because of my weight even though my other vitals always came back normal.
Years later, as a college student and dance major, I went to the dance studio to take two 90-minute ballet classes back to back. I had a terrible cough the whole day and just thought I had a head cold. Around nine that night, I found myself having an incredibly tough time breathing, so much so that I ended up in the emergency room with a walking pneumonia diagnosis. I left the emergency room that day with antibiotics and what would become my new best friend: my inhaler.
Getting Diagnosed With Asthma
Every time I took my inhaler, it felt like a weight lifted off of my chest. But it wasn't until my second walking pneumonia diagnosis that I knew I wanted an inhaler regularly. While I still wasn't 100 percent sure that I had asthma, I knew that my lungs liked having an inhaler.
Just before New York went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, I went to CityMD for what I thought would be a third walking pneumonia diagnosis. This time, the doctor looked at my results, looked at me, and said, "I don't see any fluid in your lungs this time . . . you might have asthma." Hearing a doctor finally say what I felt for so long felt like a relief, only getting the actual diagnosis took another year.
In short, during the spring of 2020, I went to a pulmonologist and she spent the majority of the appointment asking me, "Are you sure it's asthma?" After a bit of back and forth, I received a short breathing test using a peak flow meter. Upon reading the result, the pulmonologist realized I had restricted airflow and proceeded to give me a referral to the local hospital to get a proper breathing test done. Unfortunately, getting an appointment was impossible because the hospitals were filled with COVID patients.
Fast forward to a year and a new insurance provider later, I found myself at a different pulmonologist office where he said the cause of my breathing problems was either my heart, thyroid, or weight. This time, I took a breath, looked him in the eyes, and said, "Can I please have a proper breathing test before you rule out asthma?" He agreed. A week later, I took the breathing test. Essentially, you breathe several times in different ways into a large contraption both with and without having had a bit of medicine from an inhaler.
When it came time to read the results, his eyes widened as he said, "You do have asthma! I didn't give you any medicine for this? You definitely need an inhaler." He then prescribed two types of inhalers (one to take once a day and another to take as needed for when I work out). I left that doctor's office happier than a child who just got the gift of their dreams from Santa.
Life With an Inhaler
Now, having an inhaler in my bag at all times, I take two pumps of my "as-needed" inhaler in the morning and throughout the day as necessary. And I definitely need it before a workout. Cycling is a great example of the difference my inhaler has made on my performance.
Before my diagnosis, I felt like I was gasping for air whenever I picked up the pace on the bike because a tightness would start to build in my chest. Even with years of learning different breathing techniques through yoga and meditation, I still felt like I couldn't find the right breathing pattern that would support me on the bike.
Since having an inhaler, I make sure to take a couple pumps around 15 minutes before getting on the bike so that I can breathe without feeling a tightness in my chest as I cycle. Yes, I still get winded — especially after sprints — but now I'm not gasping for air. Instead, I'm now able to take a second to sit and slow down my breath, then get right back up to keep riding without any tightness in my chest.
Having my inhaler has made me realize that my weight isn't the main cause of my breathing problems and that it's important that I advocate for myself in the doctor's office instead of letting them dismiss my gut feeling about my health.