ASTHMA CASE HISTORIES: AN ASTHMATIC CAREER WOMANI am a 34-year-old lawyer who developed asthma about seven or eight years ago. Actually, I did have some bronchial problems when I was about seven years old, in 1963 or thereabouts. I seem to remember the adults told me I was wheezy. I remember getting a pretty bad case of bronchitis and taking a long time to get better. The doctor sent me to a physiotherapist and I remember the physiotherapist had to teach me how to breathe again: for some reason, I was expanding my lungs when I breathed out, instead of when I breathed in.I remember having to do some strange exercises the physiotherapist prescribed. My mother had to up-end a chair and I had to hang over the upturned seat of the chair, stomach pressed to the bottom of the seat, head hanging over the floor, stretching over the seat back. My mother had to hit my back very hard. The aim was to loosen my tight chest, and make me cough up phlegm. It was not pleasant.I don’t think I took any drugs then, except for antibiotics for the bronchitis. About 20 years later I started to get bronchitis very badly again. My GP said it looked like asthma, so I went for tests to determine whether it was due to allergy. As I suspected, I was allergic to all the usual things, except, oddly, dog hair. I had always been a bit allergic. As a child I had terrible eczema, and couldn’t wear wool close to my skin. I would regularly scratch until I bled. I had to wear cotton gloves to bed, tied onto my hands so I couldn’t get them off. But I always got them off.Funnily enough, in the 20 years when I didn’t have asthma, I took up smoking, but had no breathing problems. I smoked while I was at university (everyone else did), from when I was 17 to 22. I gave up in 1979. I never had another cigarette, and I didn’t have breathing problems until 1982 or ’83.I was originally classified as having mild asthma. But last year my doctor slightly increased the amount of medication I take after two people with mild asthma, who were patients of doctors she knew, actually died of asthma attacks.I take 300 mg of Theo-Dur morning and night, four puffs of Becotide morning and night, and two puffs of Ventolin four times a day. It’s a snack!In return for keeping to that regime, I have a life completely free of respiratory problems. I never get colds, let alone bronchitis. I only ever notice my asthma when it’s time for a dose, or occasionally if I overdo the exercise close to dose time.I wasn’t very sporty as a child, but about five years ago I began thinking about taking up some regular exercise to keep fit. A friend suggested I take up swimming, because it had helped a friend of hers who had severe asthma. I did, and I have swum every weekday since. I swim between one and two kilometres, without stopping, five days a week.As I became more fit, I took up cycling as well. I only do that in winter because I get too hot in summer, but in winter I ride about 15 kilometres every weekday. I always carry my Ventolin inhaler when I ride, and sometimes I have to stop and use it. I never have to interrupt my swimming to puff Ventolin. Swimming actually seems to have a similar effect to Ventolin for me.I had to have an executive fitness test recently, for insurance purposes, and my lung function was judged excellent, far better than most of the executives they usually test —although that probably isn’t much in the way of competition!My asthma is undoubtedly exacerbated by things in my environment. For example, when my asthma was first diagnosed, I had recently moved into an old house with carpets. I suspect it was full of old dust. I am allergic to the dust mites, as are many asthma sufferers. I now live in a house with no carpet, and I am sure it helps. I make sure the house is as free of dust as possible. Luckily, I have a cleaner who does the dusting and vacuuming for me. My doctor was kind enough to tell me I must avoid all housework that stirs up dust!I am also allergic to cat hair. I have a Siamese cat. I am sure he makes my asthma worse, but I couldn’t give him up. At least he is short-haired.I also find my asthma improves dramatically as soon as I leave Sydney. Luckily, I love travelling. Once I spent a month in France and seemed to lose my asthma completely. I never stopped taking the medication though.Once I was stupid enough to decide to cut down on my daily asthma medication. Luckily, I checked with my doctor first. She asked me what I thought I’d cut down, and I said the Becotide. She said that wasn’t the ideal thing to cut down, because it treats the cause of asthma, rather than the symptoms. She said the latest wisdom was that Becotide had been underprescribed, and she was actually going to suggest I increase the strength and amount of Becotide I was taking. That was when she told me about the two people who had recently died.Since then, I have paid very close attention to taking my medication as prescribed, at the right time and in the right amounts. With my limited understanding of how the drugs operate, I think I’d be mad to play around with dosages. I am now very happy to keep on taking the medication, and to continue to live a very busy, active and normal life. I don’t see myself as an asthmatic. Yes, I have asthma. But unless you see me taking a puff, you’ll never know.*51\148\2*
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