Safe as Aspirin

“Take a deep breath.”

Sometimes it’s not so easy.

I always took breathing for granted. Sure I did it and enjoyed it but it wasn’t until I suddenly (turns out it was not that sudden) “got” asthma that I appreciated the full depth of meaning in a deep breath.

If you don’t breathe — or you can’t — you can die.

All older people have a catalog of ailments. Some are the result of boobytrap genes that lie dormant until the childbearing years are over. It is quite sinister, actually, if you think about it. The way I see it this is a two-fold mission. Some of these genetic predispositions can kill us; others might make us more willing to accept the inevitable.

Others are freak occurences.

One of the ailments in my catalog is a rare (1 in 10,000 people) condition called Samter’s Triad or Triad Asthma. It appeared in 2010 first as an itchy rash, then a perpetually stuffed up nose and then asthma — at night. I had never had asthma and didn’t even really know what it was. About an hour after I went to bed, I was no longer able to breathe. It was miserable and, ultimately, very scary. A night came when I really COULDN’T breathe. I remember sitting on my sofa and WILLING myself to breathe understanding VERY CLEARLY on a visceral level that if I didn’t breathe, I would die. The next time it happened, I treated myself like a kid with croup and headed to the bathroom and blasted my airways with the steam of a hot shower.

I went to the “doctor.” She treated it with conventional asthma remedies that didn’t do anything more than pump a lot of steroid powder into my lungs. I used OTC allergy meds to control the stuffy nose that I was sure was caused by an allergy to tree pollen. In fact, I wasn’t so far wrong — willow trees were all over the place and willow was the original source of what turned out to be my nemesis: aspirin.

That went on for more than a year until she yelled at me saying, “Why don’t you get better?”

Yeah, another thing about being a “little old lady” is that some doctors assume you’re visiting them for attention. Not me. I don’t really like doctors. I’ve been mistreated (literally) by so many that I’m suspect of the whole genre. (Sorry Vicdolore — if you read this — you do NOT fit in the group of careless practitioners.)

Finally, after suffering for two years, and having no sense of smell, taste or hearing, of having to pull over to the shoulder on my way to school some mornings because I felt faint from lack of oxygen, I called an ENT specialist. He examined me, did electronic scans of my sinus cavities, and found nasal polyps. The other symptoms? He referred me to an allergist and gave me prescriptions for prednisone and an antibiotic. He also prescribed a nasal spray with a small dose of steroids hoping it would successfully (and permanently?) shrink the nasal polyps. It did. It’s worked well so far. I was relieved because often they require surgical removal — and then come back.

Twenty-four hours later I could breathe and taste food. Three days later, thanks to a talented allergist, I knew what was wrong with me. Aspirin induced asthma. Triad Asthma. Samter’s Triad. Yeah. I had long taken that little aspirin every night to protect my heart. She prescribed Singulair, hoping it would do the job of controlling my asthma. It has. I’m very lucky that this whole mess is controlled by meds. I’m also lucky to have good insurance. The nasal spray is $500 month if I had to pay out of pocket. It’s not sold over the counter, either.

It is not an allergy, but explaining it to people is already complicated and many (most?) doctors (GPs, family practice, even internists) have not encountered it; many have never heard of it. When I meet a new doctor, I get the uncomfortable task of telling them their job. “I have Triad Asthma. It’s…” The good side of that is that I can evaluate a new doc by how he/she responds to being told something by a patient. The good ones admit they’ve never heard of it,Β  and since everyone sits in front of a computer these days, they look it up. The BEST check it out before our initial appointment. πŸ™‚

There is a procedure called “aspirin desensitization” that I might opt for down the road. It involves outpatient treatment with aspirin under close supervision until the patient no longer reacts to the aspirin. Since the process has the potential to be deadly, it isn’t something I want to try at home.

AND I will never, ever forget what it was like those YEARS when breathing was so difficult and I will certainly always remember the dark nights when I literally FOUGHT for my breath.

9 thoughts on “Safe as Aspirin

  1. One of the disadvantages of growing old is that no-one tells you what could happen and when it happens the doctors try everything until they get a result which they often do not. Aspirin seems to be one of the drugs that are often used. I am glad that your problems are now solved. Sometimes I feel like a guinea pig when the doctor has a new remedy.

  2. I am quite happy to hear you were able to will yourself to breathe in the middle of the night. That could have been scary, Martha. And yes, please get the bracelet!

  3. This is quite a story. I know about aspirin and that is has dangerous side effects for some people. I have encountered (2) patients who were allergic to aspirin. Even Tylenol can be dangerous as well as any medication known to man. Every time I need to take a “new” med, I put that pill in my mouth with trepidation.

    I’m glad that you have a med that helps you and yes the asthma med you take costs a small fortune. My husband took that one plus another one. He/we had/have good insurance and I am so grateful that I worked for the government. Got my insurance through government while still working and have had same plan since 1990.

    • Good insurance is a savior. When I think about the chain of events that led me to that and to a retirement, I’m just amazed and grateful. It was serendipitous, though at first it looked like bad news. πŸ™‚

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