Breath of Fresh Air: Feature Articles

Chapter 59: Growing Up with Asthma — and Pediatrician Parents

Charles D. had an unusual advantage growing up with asthma: both of his parents are pediatricians! Nonetheless, his first recollection of having had asthma was being in the hospital with difficulty breathing at age 3. Fortunately, as he grew older, his asthma became easier to manage.

Even at a young age he needed to take asthma medications every day. At that time, it was theophylline and with the help of the school nurse, he recalls that "it wasn't too complicated for me." In fact, he felt somewhat fortunate, in that some of his friends "had more severe asthma and ...they did get sick enough that it interfered with their schooling. For me, I got off pretty lucky."

Although school work always came first for Charles, sports were a close second, "icing on the cake," as he describes it. He began running in school in the third grade, and by high school he was competing in long-distance events, including running the mile and cross-country events (three-mile races). He found that the more time that he spent warming up before competitions, the better able he was to keep his asthma from acting up. He used his albuterol inhaler before running and rarely if ever needed to use it during races.

He has never been self-conscious about using his inhalers for asthma. Friends would rarely if ever give him a hard time about it. At most, he says, they would express an interest in what he was taking, be surprised that you could have asthma and enjoy running, and sometimes wonder if it was something that they should be doing too!

When he began Harvard College 2 years ago, he thought that it would be fun to try rowing on the crew team. Although his interests have now led elsewhere, he participated on the light-weight crew team for two years without limitation due to his asthma. He attributes his success to "common sense," that is, making good decisions about taking his medications every day, using his bronchodilator before exercise, and not trying to overdo it at the beginning of exercising. Although taking medications every day is no fun, he notes philosophically that it is a lot better than the alternative: having asthma that limits what you want to be doing. Scuba diving is the only activity that he has had to pass up because of his asthma.

He has some seasonal allergies with nasal congestion and runny nose, mainly in the late summer months. He has the most difficulty with his asthma when he develops a respiratory tract infection, and at those times he on occasion has had to go onto prednisone. As a biochemistry major at Harvard, there are plenty of stresses in his life, including well-defined times around exam period. He has not found that stress is a major trigger to his asthma, however.

Because of his asthma, he has never had cats or dogs at home. Instead, he has made due with reptiles and fish as pets. He began with hermit crabs and tropical fish, then curly-tailed lizards, enoli lizards, iguanas, and a pet frog that he has had for 14 years. He does best, he notes, if he can avoid dusty places, mildew, cigarette smoke, and the smoke of burning leaves in the fall.

This summer Charles is working in a medical research laboratory participating in a clinical study of Parkinson's Disease.