A Fish Out of Water

(Originally posted: October 12, 2016)

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BRONX, NY- We have all heard the reference “I feel like a fish out of water” when kids describe an asthma attack. They are not wrong. Having an asthma attack is a frightening and stressful experience. The lungs and airways become constricted, causing the individual to cough and wheeze due to lack of air. No human lives in a fish bowl, but oxygen is the main source of life for us. If there is no clean air, we are screwed. This is ten times worse for someone who has asthma.

I was diagnosed with asthma when I was a month old. Mami explained I had developed pneumonia and from there had trouble breathing. Asthma is genetic on Mami’s side of the family, but the surprise to her was how young I got diagnosed with it. According to NYC.gov Asthma is defined as “a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.” Major symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. After my asthma diagnosis, family members who have the illness explained to me what to look for when having an attack. By the time I was five, I knew the basics of what asthma was, but still went into a state of panic whenever an attack occurred. When I began the second grade, Mami enrolled me in a program called “Open Airways,” and it changed my life.

Open Airways is a six week, 45 minute program to educate young kinds about their asthma, and how to control the triggers. The school nurse ran the program and fit the lesson plan to everyone’s different levels of asthma. This was where I learned that my asthma is seasonal. The nurse showed me and six other kids how to use our inhalers, nebulizer machines, peak flow meters, and aerochambers. There were lessons about our different triggers and even situations where stress levels could affect our breathing.

After “graduating” from Open Airways, I no longer feared an asthma attack. I knew what to do if my lungs decided to kick my ass. If I felt my breathing was off, I used the peak flow meter to check the severity of it (yellow to red is not good). The aerochamber made taking my inhaler more effective, and by the time I turned 13 I had no need for it anymore. The last major asthma attack I recall experiencing was at 15 during P.E. in high school. It was spring and there was a race I participated in. Not only was I out of breath at the end of it, but I had no idea the pollen levels outdoors were high. I sat on the grass, grabbed my inhaler from the pocket of my gym sweats and gave myself two puffs. When that failed I took myself to the nearest clinic for a treatment.

Now at 25, I have a nebulizer at home. It helps keep my lungs stable when I have severe infections like bronchitis, a bad cold, or in one horrible instance the flu. This machine is used when I know my inhaler will not be enough. The only bad side effect I get from this is the jitters. When my lungs act up I need to take it easy for the rest of the day. Some people have told me “it must suck to have asthma.” Of course it sucks to know my lungs won’t cooperate at times, but I believe like an other illness there are certain things I need to avoid to continue to live my life. Cats are one of my triggers and I adore them, but I know to stay out of their way and in the rare instances I do pet a feline, my hands immediately get washed in hand sanitizer. My other triggers include:

  • Dust (a clean home is a happy home).

  • Pollen

  • Mold

  • Extreme heat or cold

If you know a child who suffers from asthma, tell them it will be okay. Help them through the process and find a great way to educate them on the triggers. Open Airways was the best thing for me. Breathe easy.


  1. NYC.gov Asthma Facts: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/asthma-facts.page

  2. CDC PDF: https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/stateprofiles/asthma_in_nys.pdf

  3. Open Airways: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-education-advocacy/open-airways-for-schools/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Photo by : Rosa Elena Burgos.

Last Updated: July 24, 2019