May is National Asthma and Allergies Awareness Month.
May 6 is World Asthma Day.
And so, today, I would like to help those who do not have asthma understand a bit what it feels like to struggle breathing.
Here's What happens:
You know what it feels like when you need to cough, right? You NEED it. You feel that little wiggle of pheylgm and an incurable urge to expel it.
When you have asthma, you do, indeed, produce extra mucus, but your throat is so tightly constricted, you can't force it up. And yet, your brain tells you that you need to cough, so you cough. The cough further inflames your airway, causing it to swell, and giving a tighter grip of your muscles around your throat. Which, then again, makes you want to cough to open the airway. The cough forces out a large amount of air from your body, leaving it with very little left. Since your airway is swollen nearly shut, you can't get more air in. Your brain realizes there is not a good balance of good air to bad air in your body, which makes you panic. When you panic, you naturally produce a spike of cortisol. What does that hormone make you want? More oxygen. What happens when you can't deliver it? More panic. Do you see the loop here?
So, that's what's happening. Here's what it feels like:
Warm, humid days are the worst.
The humidity drapes itself over my body like a wet blanket for the first mile. It's tangible; I can feel the weight of the air. Then, the blanket sinks deeper, through my skin, and laces seem to appear in the heavy wool of the blanket which cinches tightly, strangling my never-prepared lungs.
Imagine a small child sitting on your chest. You know your lungs are big enough to still breathe and get in the air you need, but because of the child pushing down on your chest, they don't have the room for the air. Your lungs are not stronger than the child. Asthma is that child.
Your body does everything it can to get air in. So, you start by breathing in through your nose. You breathe heavily- you can never get enough- and so your nostrils begin to burn from the friction of the in-and-out quickness of the air.
Next, you breathe through mouth. After some experience, you know that this will burn worse. You can take in more air through your mouth, quicker. But it does not get where it needs to go. There seems to be a hole in your throat, so the air that comes in never makes it to your lungs.
Panic. You need air. Even your eyes widen, as if you could pull in air through the gaps in your eye lids. You can't think about anything else. If you are moving, you have to stop moving. You have to stop everything else your body is doing to focus on getting air.
And you are unsuccessful.
How long does it last?
An inhaler gets the oxygen in, so there is help immediately. But it burns going down. The burn lasts in your throat for hours. Also, the medicine leads you (or me anyway) to get get jitters that also last for a while. (This is because the medicine is a stimulant. I get the same affect from coffee.)
I could quit running. Asthma has made me hate it anyway. But I know the overall health benefits of running make it so that I almost can't give it up. So, I use my stop-gap measures to keep this problem under control the best I can. I go on the treadmill inside (where there is no pollen or humidity) or choose another exercise on days that summer has thrown me its worst. I never really get into a good rhythm.
I will never stop wondering if I would be able to truly love to run if I could actually breathe.
Passion Under Grace,