Our Road to an Asthma Diagnosis

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It started with a nagging throat-clearing. Every 15 – 30 seconds, after Z had been in a house with cats (allergy trigger) for several hours.

There was the time we tried the Vicks Vaporub on the feet trick, which only made his cough worse.

Then there was the time he had croup. It was so bad that for three days, neither he nor I slept for longer than a 45 minute stretch, and that was only when I was holding him in the rocking chair to keep him upright.

Finally, there was the time he coughed regularly, long and hard, either from allergies (it was his first real “allergy season”) or from a cold—we weren’t sure which.

In retrospect, there were plenty of clues to tell us that Z was developing asthma, but I just wasn’t sure what to do.

So, I guess you could file this one under, “I wish I’d had a sage to walk me through this.” I sure could have used the insight and assurance that would have come in that form as we walked this confusing path.

When he couldn’t shake his cough and I saw him struggling a little to breathe, I took him in to the doctor. My gut just knew something was off. He ended up getting a breathing treatment in the office, and we headed home with a nebulizer, meds, and instructions to follow up with the allergist.

I remember clearly how the pediatrician said during the visit, “You know, if this is triggered by allergies, it’s likely he’ll develop asthma. If it’s triggered by a cold, he may not develop asthma.” And then he pretty much walked out the door leaving me to my imagination—which is like WebMD on steroids when it comes to medical stuff—and instructions from the nurse, who was awesome and shared tips like, “Don’t give him a treatment right before bed, he’ll be bouncing off the walls for at least an hour.”

Asthma Diagnosis pic

The idea of an asthma diagnosis pretty well freaked me out. Maybe it was because I had watched my sister struggle with asthma while we were growing up and how she had to rely on her Primatene Mist inhaler for relief. Or, maybe it’s because I knew that those who have food allergies and asthma are more likely to have anaphylactic reactions in the case of an accidental exposure. Or maybe it was a combination of the two. I don’t know for sure. I just know I didn’t like the idea one bit.

What I do know is that through the next couple of years we got the all-clear from one allergist, and then switched to another allergist who did further testing and determined he was not, in fact, “all clear.” His lungs were showing signs of asthma, and that needed to be addressed. I will be eternally grateful to our allergist for how proactive she has been in this.

If I could go back to talk to my unsure self, the one that wasn’t exactly sure what to do or how to advocate for my son, this is what I would say:

Don’t fear the diagnosis. If your gut tells you something is off, chances are your gut is right; a mother’s intuition rarely lets her down. So, tackle it as soon as you can, and be proactive. The health of your child depends on it.

Meds can be your friend. In the case of asthma, choosing to disregard doctor’s orders because you don’t like your child to be on medications can be costly. Be willing to openly communicate with your doctor. If you are unsure of why your doctor is prescribing one, two, or even three meds for your child at one time, ask the questions. If you can’t get an answer, get a second opinion. As a side note: I’m not a medication junkie. I wasn’t convinced Z needed all of the meds our allergist prescribed when he was first diagnosed. But it turned out his peak flow, which was 140 at the doctor’s office, should have been hovering somewhere around 225. So, for the sake of his health, I put my anxiety about medications aside.

A peak flow meter is a must. Checking peak flows with a meter (we have this one and love it) 2 – 3 times each week takes one minute or less, but gives you great insight to the current lung function of your kiddo. If peak flows are dipping a little lower than normal, you can check them more regularly and consult your asthma action plan.

Get an asthma action plan from your allergist. Have a lengthy discussion with your allergist and get clear directions on what to do if peak flows dip. At our annual appointment with our allergist, Z plays a little video game with his breathing. He breathes into an apparatus that is connected to a computer. As he breathes, a little cartoon game responds on the screen. It’s the hardest video game he’ll ever play, because it measures (magically, somehow) how open his large and small airways are currently. I know it’s hard because I always, always end up doing it subconsciously while watching him. And I’m always totally gassed when the nurse finally says, “OK, take a breath!” Based on this magical test and the last six months or so of my observation, his current range of peak flows, and his general health, his allergist outlines an updated asthma action plan and sends it home with us. I can consult that slip of paper anytime I have a question (read: midnight so I’m not waking the doctor), and I feel confident in responding to his breathing needs accordingly.

Honestly, I was anxious about an asthma diagnosis, but once we got it under control we determined to make it fall under the “Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing” category. I am continually thankful that Z’s daily controller med makes asthma a near non-issue for us. He has flare-ups maybe once each year, which require more aggressive treatment, but that’s so doable considering the alternative.

Have you or your child been diagnosed and treated for asthma? What advice would you give to someone just starting down this road? Share in the comments!

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

9 Comments to Our Road to an Asthma Diagnosis

  1. THANK YOU for this post, Tiffany! I really feel like my four-year-old might have asthma, so we are going to get him checked out. Every single time he’s sick, he gets a terrible cough that doesn’t go away until he gets a prescription for an inhaler. We have also noticed it seems worse when he’s around my mom’s cats. Really appreciate your tips!

  2. Heidi Krone

    Tiff
    My three kids are asthmatic. Whew what a ride it has been!! We had a wonderful allergist until he retired and havent found one since. Since then our regular drs monitor this. Ine thing I want to let parents know when your child is diagnoised with asthma dont hold your child back! Dont fear this diagnoises! My three children involved in band, and sports! Softball baseball and running! And at times my child finishes the race with blue lips, but she finishes and she has her inhaler! I believe running has made their lungs stronger. Another thing parents with asthmatic children do not give excuses my child has asthma, yes they do and they can do anything!

    • That’s so nice to hear, Heidi! I certainly wouldn’t want asthma to get in the way of my son participating in activities, so this makes me feel much better! :)

    • Tiffany Self

      I totally agree, Heidi! It doesn’t stop us at all…Z is as involved and as active as he would be without it!

  3. Megan

    We have been dealing with “reactive airways” since my son was about a year. They won’t give him an official asthma diagnosis because they feel that he isn’t old enough to do pulmonary function tests (he is almost 6 now). We have a fantastic asthma action plan and can usually get a same day appointment with our respirologist at the children’ s hospital here because the nurse and respirologist would rather us see them than our family doctor about this stuff. Even if you can’t get an official diagnosis, an excellent action plan goes a long way. We’ve been dealing with this for so long we know all the signs and symptoms and when it warrants a trip to the ER for steroids and admission.

    • Tiffany Self

      Interesting, Megan! It sounds like your son is in good hands–both with great doctors and a good, responsive mom! I love our action plan, it has guided me a few times when I was unsure. Here’s to good health for both of our boys!

  4. Hi,

    I’m not writing as an asthma parent but from a teenager’s perspective. I was originally ‘diagnosed’ with mild intermittent asthma maybe-sort of-possibly-ish back in February. I’m a singer, so my lung function should be greater than 100%, and mine was 120% (which probably sounds great to all you old-time asthmatics, but it’s just normal for a singer). They gave me Ventolin and sent me on my way.

    For the past 6 months, I’ve had a worsening cough, breathlessness, wheezing (audible at night, when lying down) and the feeling that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get enough air. Went back for spirometry around about 6 weeks ago, where my best spiro result was 80%. It just kept getting worse after the first attempt, and my cough was horrible, so the nurse decided to trial me on 6 weeks of beclometasone.

    My blue inhaler has been increasingly less effective, so I saw the doctor about a week or two ago. My PEFR was 200 at best then, after 4.5 weeks of the brown inhaler, and the doctor said that the nurse would add on a long-acting reliever at my next spirometry to help. The only other reliever inhalers we have in the UK are all in dry-powder form (we don’t have Xopenex in the UK) , which I would really struggle to use, most of all when I really need it, so the doctor told me to discuss that with the nurse at spirometry next week, where we can look at the different options together. I have considered asking if there are any ones licensed for COPD which might work for asthma.

    On Monday night, I woke up with a really tight chest and I couldn’t stop coughing. I went to my parents’ room and we got my reliever into the spacer and gave me 4 doses. After about half an hour it had settled.

    Then there was Tuesday. I didn’t feel much different to usual on Tuesday for the most part of the day. I came home, had dinner and was just doing my Christmas list (sorry, too early, I know, but it’ll never get done otherwise) and suddenly, my cough became really wheezy and polyphonic. I took 4 puffs of my Ventolin, waited half an hour, and then took 4 more, which did nothing, so my dad called 111 (an urgent care advice line for the NHS in England, like a step between calling your GP and calling 999) who sent an ambulance round after only a few questions. The paramedics took my vitals, listened to my cough..my heart rate was high, my blood pressure was elevated, my blood glucose was elevated (this was now 3 hours after our meal and I’m not diabetic, and it was 8.9 mmol/l) and my respiratory rate was high so they drove me to the nearest big hospital, half an hour away, where I was taken straight to cubicles to be cannulated and wrist banded and checked out.

    It was one heck of a long night, and they wanted to keep me in because my heart rate was up, but we assured them it wasn’t much higher than usual and has actually been elevated for a few months now, so they discharged me at 4:15am with 40mg prednisolone each day for 5 days, and 2x 500mg of clarithromycin each day for 7 days. The doctor told me that asthma should not be taken lightly, even though it is such a common condition (wow, check me, getting a condition that isn’t really rare for a change) and said I had to make an appointment with my GP within 48 hours of discharge.

    I went to the docs at 7:50am on Thursday and got a peak flow meter and the remainder of the prednisolone (I had been given 28 tablets, on a course of 8 tablets every day for 5 days – you do the math) and now it’s only 5 days until spirometry.

    (Just a side note here – don’t get clarithromycin if you can avoid it because, unless you absolutely love Indian Tonic Water, you will hate these tablets. It starts off fine, but after half an hour or so, this really bitter taste enters my mouth..eugh. But the pred is great, and I almost feel normal for the first time in a long time!)

    I wish you all luck in your asthma journeys!

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