It 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.