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My WebMD: Coping with Asthma at College

A third-year student at University of Virginia offers tips on managing asthma while away from home.
By Gracie Terzian
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

I think my mother was more worried about my going to college two years ago than I was. I have had asthma since I was very young.

It was worse when I was younger. I used to have to use an inhaler before I ran the mile in PE class. And one time I had a big role in a play, and I developed pneumonia. My asthma got really bad. I remember using my nebulizer -- a machine that creates a medicated inhalable mist -- backstage before I went on. And I hid cough drops on the backs of set pieces to help me get through.

Recommended Related to Asthma

Asthma in Children and Infants

Not all children have the same asthma symptoms, and these symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Possible signs and symptoms of asthma in children include: Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at night, or while laughing or crying A chronic cough (which may be the only symptom) Less energy during play Rapid breathing (intermittently) Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting" Whistling sound when breathing in or out -- called wheezing...

Read the Asthma in Children and Infants article > >

Now I'm 20. I'm a third-year student at the University of Virginia, majoring in drama. I've gotten good at keeping my asthma under control. It mostly only acts up when I'm sick, especially when I have a cold or a cough.

The biggest thing I've had to learn is to carry an inhaler with me wherever I go. That can be hard to remember. My solution is to have a bunch of inhalers and leave them in my bags. That way, no matter which bag I pick up -- my backpack, my purse, whatever -- I know I have an inhaler. Every time I go back to my home in Northern Virginia, I get my prescription refilled from my family doctor. I also have my own nebulizer, which I keep in my dorm room and use occasionally.

Asthma at College: "Take It Seriously"

My advice for teenagers with asthma who are at college is to take it seriously. Keep an inhaler with you all the time. That includes when you go out at night. You might think you don't have to pay attention because your parents aren't around, but you have to pay attention more because they're not there to remind you. If you start drinking and dancing and having fun, you might not notice your asthma is acting up. And there are lots of cigarettes at college parties, which can trigger some peoples' asthma, too.

Also, try your best to keep your allergies under control because that keeps your system calmer, making it less likely to erupt into asthma. Know what you're allergic to. Take preventive steps, whether it's wrapping your bedding in allergy-protective covering or avoiding dust and mold. For me it has meant doing daily nasal irrigation and starting up immunotherapy shots again. I think I've learned to take a little better care of myself than other people my age do.

I would also say to stay positive and don't hold back. I'm very active. I take lots of dance classes, and I've even started studying aerial acrobatics. Last summer I helped out at Theatre for a New Audience in New York City, and this fall I'm interning at [NBC's] Saturday Night Live.

Being fit is a key part of prevention, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Reviewed on August 12, 2011

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