Shortness of Breath Became Noticeable

Editor's Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Part 2 can be found here and part 3 here.

At some point, shortness of breath became noticeable. Maybe it’s because of the cigarettes that her husband smoked. It’s possible that his smoking is causing her cough. Chemicals could be causing the cough, yet there is a door between the office where she is and the production area where they use chemicals. She thinks that she’s getting a cold.

The appointment

When she's ready to find out what’s wrong, she makes an appointment with her doctor. The doctor listens to her chest, she listens to how her breath sounds. The doctor is hearing wheezing in her chest. She’s concerned, then sends her to radiology. The x-ray shows an elongated right lung, pneumonia, and possibly COPD.

The nurse gives her a breathing treatment. This consists of putting medication into a cup and breathing it through a mouthpiece. With a tube attached, this device can hook up to oxygen. They usually use this in the hospital or ambulance. However, the doctor may recommend doing it this way at home. They may provide a mask to wear as well.

What if it's serious?

While doing a treatment at home, tubing might be hooked up to a nebulizer. Medication is breathed in through the mouthpiece. This medicine is called Albuterol. She feels better when her treatment is finished. The chest tightness and her breathing seem a bit better.

At home, her doctor might prescribe the Albuterol or maybe DuoNeb. Both are bronchodilators. Since Spiriva is ipratropium (as is the DuoNeb) her doctor might not prescribe them. Her doctor wants to see her up for a variety of tests. These will tell how her lungs are functioning. She is possibly tired from lack of sleep. She's concerned, maybe scared. What if they find something? What if it’s serious? Most of her appointments are sitting in a clear telephone booth. How exciting!

Important tests

They do a few different tests with a clip pinching her nose closed and she puts her mouth over the mouthpiece. The first time I had this test it felt kind of intimidating, hearing her doctor say: "Blow, blow, blow." It seemed like my head wanted to pop off my neck.

Each test is done three times. They use the two best scores. Now it’s time to see how she does with the methacholine challenge. She breathes that in, just like with a nebulizer treatment. This test can be very important because it can help differentiate between COPD and asthma. It can help evaluate how responsive her lungs are to the environment. Methacholine can cause narrowing of the airways, similar to that in asthma.

It will help your doctor

The doctor has her blow into a plastic tube. She keeps saying: "Blow, blow, and blow." That’s hard work. She coughs. She's tired. She has even gotten dizzy. I know I’ve felt like a washcloth that’s been rung out then hung out to dry after taking this test. How satisfying though, to blow a good percentage for your lung function. Regardless of the percentage, once she knows what hers is, it will help her doctor know how to best treat her. It will also help her understand why she feels the way she does.

Learned the hard way

In the meantime, her doctor wants her to start using an Albuterol rescue inhaler. The nurse called it Pro-Air. She shakes it, then gives a squirt in the air to make sure that there is nothing in the inhaler that shouldn’t be there. Nothing that can cause harm when inhaling into your lungs. This I learned the hard way.

One day I needed an inhaler and reached into my purse, put the inhaler to my mouth and squeezed. An Advil had found its way into the inhaler. You see that little white cap was off too. That was bad. When I squeezed the inhaler, there was a pressure that pushed that Advil to the back of my throat and I was choking. I finally coughed it out. It was scary.

Helpful tips

To me, it’s important to share these embarrassing moments, not for my benefit, but maybe it will help someone. Always secure the cap on the inhaler, as well as squeezing it before using. There are other inhaled bronchodilators and inhalers not listed here. It’s up to you and your doctor to determine what you should use. I named Albuterol and DuoNeb because I have used both of them.

Spacers can be very helpful at dispersing your inhaled medication. A spacer is a round tube that attaches to the inhaler. When you squeeze your inhaler, the medication goes into the spacer. When you breathe in, it helps move the medication into your lungs. Not all inhalers are to be used with one. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and see if this would help you.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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