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A story about me and my asthma

Posted on April 17th, 2008 by Alison Read 16 Comments - Add Your Own »

inhaler.jpgIt is 1992 and I am on a train heading from the south of Spain to Madrid, where I am living and studying for the semester. I have just spent 5 days in Morocco, eating cous-cous, drinking mint tea and staying in beautiful mosaic hotel rooms. I am 21 years old and I am having trouble breathing and it is the first time it ever crosses my mind that I could actually die from an asthma attack.

Inhaler in hand, I take a puff every hour, then every half hour, eventually every few minutes and I am watching the clock to see how long I have until we arrive in Madrid, where I will have to take the subway and then walk to the boarding house where I live. It is taking so long. And I can only breathe short breaths, I can’t get air deep into my lungs. I am starting to feel panicky which only makes asthma worse. I talk to myself — you’re ok, you’re ok, we’re going to get there.

We arrive at the train station. I take the subway, and then a friend carries my duffel bag in addition to his because I can barely even carry myself up the steps of the house. I make it. I take the prednisone that I had left behind, never suspecting that I would need it. I lay sick in bed for 2 days, exhausted from trying so hard to breathe.

I have asthma, or as I now say, I had asthma. Since I was a kid I carried around my inhaler, taking a puff or two at the halftime of my soccer game or if I got a cold. Mine was not serious enough that I ever had to go to the hospital, but in my 20s, it got worse to the point that my doctor recommended I take a steroid inhaler every morning and every night to prevent attacks from happening.

It wasn’t until my diagnosis of celiac disease at age 32 that it ever occurred to me that my asthma could be triggered by food. Not one allergist had ever suggested it. It was my own idea to stop inhaling the steroid medication after 3 months on a gluten-free diet… I have not used it since.

I now know that my asthma was caused by gluten. It got worse with other triggers such as the flu, dust and exercise, but these weren’t the causes, they just made it worse. All those years I believed I had exercise-induced asthma, but within months of changing my diet, I ran an 8 mile race — without a puff!

To those of you out there suffering from asthma or whose kids are suffering from it, think about food being a cause. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) website, “asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing due to narrowed airways, may be triggered by food allergy, especially in infants and children.” According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website, “babies in particular may have food allergies that can bring on asthma symptoms. Some of the foods to which American children are commonly allergic are eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, soybean products, tree nuts and peanuts.” Even adult-onset asthma could be caused by food.

It’s up to you: try a change of diet or be on medication the rest of your life. If you decide to try it, look at which foods are being consumed the most, usually gluten and dairy, and trying cutting one or both out for a few months. Of course, consult your doctor before reducing any medications (not like I did), but also know that your doctor may not believe that food could be the cause of asthma. But it can. Just look at me.

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  1. Wow, I just finished reading this blog and I have tears running down my face. It brings back so many memories of worrying about my daughter. My worry increased when a local physician’s adult daughter died of an asthma attack while running. I remember my daughter telling me that she would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like she was suffocating when she was living in an apartment. We tried dust mite covers, new bedding, etc. to no avail.

    Fortunately, being gluten free, she is very healthy and asthma free and I am worry free. This post is from Alison’s mother.

  2. Thank you Alison for sharing that as my 5 year-old daughter has multiple food allergies, and food is DEFINITELY a trigger of her asthma. Thank you for being such a pioneer, as now, more and more doctors/allergists are aware that food can be causing the asthma.

    And to Alison’s mom ~ God Bless You! I can only imagine the stress you indured raising Alison twenty-years ago when these theories and medical treatments were nil in comparison to what they are today. I don’t know how you did it, but you have made my life, and my daughter’s, that much easier, and safer. Thanks!

  3. Alison I was really interested to read your story…Mine is so similar it is uncanny!

    An asthmatic since I was an infant, I have always struggled asthma. Like yourself exercise and things like cold weather or a bout of the flu would trigger it, so growing up in New Zealand meant I suffered for many years!!My inhaler and steroids were always by my side, and I missed out on many fun activities rather than risk another life threatening attack and trip to the hospital. Asthma ruled by life for many years…until a few months ago!

    I am now 36 and have just discovered I am Gluten and Lactose intolerant. No thanks to any of the many many doctors I have seen over the years!!

    After suffering chronic fatigue, bi polar depression, eczema, Asthma, Chronic back pain, muscle spasms and a host of other symptoms for several years….For which I had seen every kind of doctor you can imagine…They went through the processes of giving me x rays, colonoscopies, I’ve been poked and prodded, tested and re tested, been biopsied, had laparoscopic procedures, taken medication, taken anti depressants etc and still had no improvement…I finally decided enough is enough I am going to Try and get myself well……
    I decided to start a fresh and give my body a good cleanse, get some massage therapy and do some light exercising to start…I was sure it couldn’t make me feel any more tired than I already did!
    Well, That was the week my life changed!! After 10 days of doing a balanced, all organ detox I felt amazing! EVERY symptom had reduced, some had even disappeared! It was amazing….I then began introducing my regular diet again and immediately felt ill again….I knew I was onto something then!
    I decided to look into gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance and found ALL of my symptoms fitted the mark. So I immediately changed my diet to suit and now, several months later I sit here functioning like a normal healthy human being. I have energy to give my three children the attention they deserve, I can get through a day past 10am without wanting to go back to bed, I am pain free, asthma free ( we are now in Winter in Australia and I have not used my Ventolin yet!!), my skin is amazing…no eczema, no more bloating etc, it has literally all gone!

    What upsets me most is all the years I suffered needlessly because no doctor bothered to consider it was my diet causing all of these ailments.

    When will doctors of western medicine look at the causes of illness rather than just trying to band aid the symptoms?? Who knows how many people needlessly suffer when it could simply be the food they are eating which is poisoning their bodies??

    Thank you for sharing your story Alison…I hope with people like you spreading the word and telling of your experiences many others will be able to live pain and illness free!

  4. Tash,
    “When will doctors of western medicine look at the causes of illness rather than just trying to band aid the symptoms?? Who knows how many people needlessly suffer when it could simply be the food they are eating which is poisoning their bodies??” I couldn’t agree with you more!!!
    I feel lucky that I wasn’t too prodded and poked and tested as it seems you were — it really is awful that you had to go through that. I am so happy for you that you finally found the answer as some people never do, and continue to be medicated for their multitude of symptoms. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  5. Thanks to both of you. Suffering from many of the same symptoms, going to doctors for years and getting every treatment under the sun for allergies and asthma, I’m going to investigate gluten free and dairy free to determine if it will help me. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Allen,
    Please keep us posted on what you discover. It’s still amazing to me that allergists dole out asthma medication without checking into food allergies/intolerance first.

  7. Allen, Thinking of you and praying you get the answers you are looking for….

    Alison, I know I said I would get back to you, and I do intend to, however turns out there is more to my story…here’s part 2:

    While my asthma, bloating, chronic fatigue and skin problems all but disappeared when I took gluten and diary out of my diet; after a few months I started to get other allergy related issues and went into anaphylaxis on a number of occasions, was getting bad hives and other symptoms. I have found a great doctor who was quick to send me off to a very reputable immunologist here in Queensland. Turns out I did get some of my diagnosis spot on, but there was more to the story.

    I now live on a VERY strict diet which has improved my health even more than when I last posted on your site.
    I also have to carry an epipen at all times and am on high doses of Antihistamines so if I do have another reaction it wont be as severe. Of course I aim not to need to be relying on drugs, but rather living a healthy life on a friendly diet, but one must take precautions when things like anaphylaxis are on the table!

    So what am I actually allergic to? WELL…..
    Not only do I have a gluten intolerance but a wheat allergy
    Must steer clear of preservatives, especially of sulphur base, all glutemate flavour enhancers (600 range additives), natural foods high in glutemates such as broccoli, spinach and tomatoes; sauces; and some foods high in Amines such as chocolate (yeah I know….now that’s the disaster!! haha)

    The saddest part of this story that is that IF I had actually known about the wheat, gluten and dairy allergies earlier on in life, and my immune system hadn’t been working so hard to keep me alive for so long it probably wouldn’t have reached the point that it has where I am reactive to all of these foods and additives.

    Anyway that’s my update…sadly.

    I guess this just takes me back to my first post where I made the comment relating to doctors actually looking at symptoms and looking for the causes. Their lack of investigation has now not only made my life uncomfortable, but actually put my life at risk…..But will they ever learn?

  8. Tash,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your current situation. I do worry that people living with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity (and leaky gut) for so long will develop other food sensitivities. That is the case with me, although not as severe as yours. Good luck with your new diet — I hope it makes you feel good! Thanks for the update.

  9. I am so amazed to see so many people here who have battled what we are battling with our seven year old little girl right now. Seven years of gut issues, constipation, bloating, cramping, ear infections with 20+ rounds of antibiotics in three years, reflux as a baby, asthma, etc. My husband and I have taken her to so many specialists to treat all of her individual isses, and but nothing has fixed her underlying gut issues. We finally put our parental feet down in November and decided there HAD to be a cause. We were sick to death of doctors shoving meds into her to treat the symptoms and not looking to fix the problem. Months later, we are making headway. She is dairy free, egg free, gluten free, and soy free (due to food intolerance IgG test results). We are slowly healing her gut with probiotics, food enzymes, anti-fungal herbs, and more. Hopefully, we can heal her enough to get her off her asthma inhaler. Amazing that we are NOT alone.

  10. Kirstan,
    Good luck to you. It sounds like you are doing the right thing for your daughter! Please check back once she is off the inhaler. It is nice to be able to breathe!

  11. I’m starting to think that EVERYONE who has any symptoms at all should try an elimination diet. I no longer have chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia and,come to think of it, I don’t know where my asthma inhaler even is – I haven’t used it for so long.

  12. Fatcat,
    I agree! We need to eliminate food rather than prescribe medication!

  13. My story is so very similar! “Cough variant asthma” has been the diagnosis for fifteen years. In the past five I have been to so many doctors, had so many tests, been on so many medications! They would all shake their heads and give up on me since there was no relief. This cough has been debilitating. Difficulty breathing, and choking, gagging fits every day for the last five years straight.

    One week ago today I went on Dr. Andrew Weil’s website and read that food allergies can cause asthma. I took myself off all gluten food and yesterday eliminated dairy. My asthma symptoms are 80% gone in ONE WEEK.

    I remember a skin test at an allergist’s office that included foods but nothing showed. NO ONE, not any of the specialists I consulted ever asked me about my diet.

    Coffee is also a problem for me; I instantly can’t breathe. One website said it was a cross-reactor to gluten.

    I am just in the very early investigative stages of this. I want everyone with asthma to know they should try an elimination diet to see if it helps their symptoms. I have mixed emotions, mostly elation that I’m on to something, but I am also deeply resentful and angry at our medical community.

  14. Just found your website! 🙂 I’ve been gluten free for about 7 1/2 years now and what a change of health!! I had to find out by myself what was wrong with me and was very desperate to stop the pain in my stomach. I was getting very weak and along with a lot of other awful symptoms (which I suffered from for years) I was practically crawling through the grocery store aisle and noticed a rice pasta package. It said it was “easy to digest” and then the flashbulb went off in my head. 😀 After a few days of research and eliminating gluten, I then went back to the doctors’ and told them how much better things were and that I could eat again without pain. Also I had given up dairy 20 years prior to that (to feel better) and then months after that, I noticed my allergy symptoms had gone down about 85% and I now after being on a gluten free diet I hardly have any asthma attacks now or migraines!!! No medication needed now!!! 😀

  15. Ann,
    Great about your asthma — yes, frustrating too!! Would love an update on how you are doing!

    That is awesome! Asthma and migraines are totally debilitating. So glad you have found relief. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I’ve been trying to eat wheat again in small dosages. A few weeks ago I ate a cup of cooked pasta. It was delicious. I felt fine, no tummy cramps, no heat in the face. I thought to my self “wow, I’ve done it! I can eat pasta again!” This dinner was around 6 o’clock.

    At around 10 o’clock in the night as I was watching a show, I started coughing. A little set of coughs every few minutes. My son came home at around 10.30 and we started talking. My coughs increased to deep lung coughs with every sentence. I began to wheeze and by 11 o’clock my chest was heavy and I couldn’t take a breath without coughing hard. I decided to go to bed at around midnight, but the wheezing was really bad.

    I knew it was the pasta and I knew that it would probably take another few more hours for the asthma to subside. Well it did at around 1 in the morning and I slept well thereafter.

    I was lucky I suppose that my wheat re-introduction was in small tiny amounts, but it certainly left me with a lesson well-learnt.

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