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Learning to Live with Asthma


When the kids were young, we spent a lot of time showing them how to use inhalers and making sure they did it right. I don't have asthma, but I practiced with an inhaler anyway so that I could help them learn. It's amazingly easy to do it wrong and have the medicine land at the back of your throat or on the roof of your mouth instead of in your lungs. When the boys were younger, they used a device called a spacer, which attaches to the inhaler, captures the mist in a chamber, and makes the inhaler a bit easier to use.

All this practice turned out to be time well spent, because it helped make taking the medicine into a routine and a habit. The boys used inhalers at school or in public places if they needed to. We felt strongly that they had to carry their inhalers around, rather than stowing them in a teacher's desk or a nurse's office. Fortunately, the schools agreed.

Like most kids, our sons were always ready to argue, bargain, and negotiate over just about anything — bedtime, TV, sleepovers, computer games. But taking the medicine wasn't an issue: It never even came up. I think it was clear that there was nothing to debate, and they were smart enough to know that the drugs were helping them.

They never missed school because of asthma, and we tried hard to keep the disease from interfering with their lives. When the boys wanted to play sports, we were delighted. They swam, played soccer and basketball, and in high school, both were track and cross-country runners. I can think of only one decision dictated by asthma: When Eric's elementary school was starting band classes, I asked the teacher not to assign him a wind instrument, because he'd been ill and I didn't think he had enough breath for a horn or a saxophone. We got lucky: Eric found out he loved percussion, and he still plays drums in a band in college.

Gradually, the asthma diminished for both of our sons, but Brian still has occasional attacks and can't afford to ignore respiratory infections, even ones that seem minor; he had a bout with pneumonia during his freshman year in college and needed an inhaler for the first time in years. That illness was a sobering reminder to all of us that although asthma loosened its grip over time, it never did let go entirely.


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