What does asthma feel like?

If you have asthma, you’ll know. The panic. The scramble for the inhaler, the struggle to even get any of the drug in, because you can’t breathe. This article is more for the lucky ones. The winners of the genetic lottery in the asthma department.

If you look up asthma on the web, talk to a doctor or a nurse (without asthma) you’ll likely get hit with a whole lot of dry descriptions and phrases. Here is a case in point. I Googled “What does asthma feel like” while writing this article and here is the screenshot of Google’s helpful sidebar:

While all the terms are medically correct and diagnostically important, “difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing and wheezing” do not do the feeling justice. In fact they do not even approach the human impact of an asthma attack.

Abject Terror.

That’s right, to describe an asthma attack we need to go beyond the medical, into the realms of descriptive language usually shunned in the fossilised world of medical textbooks. Here are a real-life description from a sufferers:

“I awoke with a start. I had not been dreaming, but now I was awake, it felt like a Laistrygonian was using my chest for grip training. Emotions and scattered thoughts exploded on my mind confusing the night until one rose above the others… I CAN’T BREATHE!!! It took what seemed like an age for the logical list to form under that title. You’d think you could focus but the monumental effort to inhale resulting in only a few millilitres of air entering the lungs has a way of destroying thought. Every fibre of my being was screaming “BREATHE!!!” my muscles tensed and my eyes blurred as I desperately fought for that most basic of biological imperatives, oxygen. At war with myself, another thought crystallised above the rest: “Inhaler…. inhaler… inhaler” Falling (literally) out of bed, I used the last dregs of strength and O2 in my system to crawl to the next room where I was able to administer the life-saving drug. I truly believe it was the last few tiny breaths the asthma giant was going to let me have in which I was able to get that medicine in. I survived, but it was absolutely terrifying, and truly touch-and-go.”

“I feel like a fish out of water. Not metaphorically, but that helpless snapper on the floor of the boat.”

“It feels like someone is trying to kill me. With a pillow over my face like a psychopath.”

“An elephant on my chest.”

“Like breathing through one of those little coffee stirrer straws.”

“Sometimes, like I’m being knifed in the chest. Sometimes like my lungs are filled with cotton wool”

So there we go. Asthma is not just the thing the nerdy kid has in the movie, it is a deadly and terrifying disease. However, as I often say, here is the good news. Asthma can be managed. Talk to your doctor, your nurse. Use the tools available, and live your life fully!!

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