This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on January 31, 2020.
Dear COPD Coach,
I was only 7 years old when I was diagnosed with Asthma. I was exposed to second-hand smoke from an uncle who was a heavy chain smoker, and he used to share my room at the time. I’m 30 years old now and am starting to experience more attacks and it seems my medications are sometimes useless. When I am experiencing an attack it feels like I’m between the moment of life and death until I get that gasp of air into my lungs. My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer at 72 and passed away months later. He was also a very heavy smoker and even used to grow his own tobacco.
Should I start seeing a Pulmonary Doctor? I must admit I do get embarrassed when I get these attacks in front of friends and family because they all make me feel like I have some kind of disability, and my self-pride takes a hit because I’m still young and I shouldn’t be going through this, but what can I do? I never asked for this. What steps should I start making... because I don’t know where to start.
–Not Sure Where to Start
Dear Not Sure,
Your letter brings up an interesting topic: Is Asthma the same as COPD? The simple answer is no, although the two can overlap. In other words, it is possible to have a component of both.
The main difference between the two is that COPD is airway obstruction that is not reversible, or not fully reversible. Most cases of asthma are indeed reversible. With that said, there is a fair percentage of people with asthma that cross over that boundary into COPD. In some individuals, years of asthma flare-ups and lung irritation can cause permanent changes in the lungs, leading to COPD. You may well fall into that group.
As a rule, it is never a bad idea to consult with a lung professional when you are experiencing breathing problems. In your particular case, it could at least rule out a COPD diagnosis, or maybe indicate that something else is going on.
Another test you should consider is for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1), which is a genetic form of COPD inherited from both your parents. (Keep in mind that even if a parent didn’t have symptoms, he or she may still have passed the Alpha-1 gene on to you). When diagnosed with a lung disorder at a very early age and having the severe episodes you describe, Alpha-1 becomes a very real possibility. To find out more information on Alpha-1 check out the Alpha-1 Foundation website.
Another source of help and information is COPD360social, which is a place designed for individuals who are living with COPD. It is a great place to gather information and to ask any questions you may have. You can also check out the ‘Learn More’ tab above.
Please keep us informed, and rest assured that we are here if you need us!
-The COPD Coach
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