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PSA: Asthma is not a panic attack

-actual photo of me when angry

I debated writing this post because I don’t want to wallow in my anger too much, but honestly I also feel like I need to vent. I’ve posted a couple times on here about my asthma problems this week, which started on Tuesday. I ended up going to the ER yesterday because even with medicine I was getting worse, not better, which is a pretty bad sign for an asthmatic.


I was born with asthma. I have 28 years of experience of my asthma. I know what it looks, sounds, and feels like. Not all asthmatics wheeze. I rarely wheeze. My asthma is tightness on my back and chest. I will run out of breath quicker while talking but not generally while walking. I will have a lot of dry, tight coughs. Generally, resting does not change things too much.

My asthma this week has been different. When I sit down, I feel almost normal. Maybe a little tight. If I get up to walk around, or God forbid carry something, I run out of breath and start rapid breathing. This is so far out of my normal pattern that I went to the ER to rule out anything scary.

The PA and the doctor were nice enough (weirdly, the doctor that discharged me, who I hadn’t even spoken to and who had just come on shift, was kind of condescending but that’s another story). I was worried that with my history of asthma, they would just give me a couple nebulizer treatments and send me home. I tried to emphasize how different this is from my pattern. I was relieved when they did a lot of the testing I wanted. I now feel pretty satisfied that this is just a new exacerbation of my asthma and nothing scary like a blood clot (I don’t even seem to have an infection, go figure).

I was prepared for the possibility of being dismissed as just another asthma patient (well, luckily, this turned out to be the truth), but I was NOT prepared to be dismissed as someone having a panic attack rather than asthma. The PA and the doctor did not do this but the nurse did.


The first thing that happened was that after she listened to my breathing, she walked out of the room and said, “Her lungs sound fine, I don’t know why we’re giving her breathing treatments.” I don’t think she thought I could hear her but I did. There is an issue where medical staff are not trained properly when listening to lungs. They listen for wheezing, but not all asthmatics wheeze. Actually, someone in acute asthma will sound very quiet because they are not getting enough airflow to make any sound. (Also remember that I am normal sitting down, which is what freaked me out, and I was sitting down when she listened to my lungs.)

By the way - my peak flow was under half of what it should be for my age, height and weight. It jumped up 40% with the nebulizer. I did need breathing treatment.


She made a couple rude comments about all the testing I was getting. The worst thing that happened though was when they decided to walk me around to witness my reported symptoms. Just untangling myself from the IVs and standing up put me out of breath. The nurse asked me, “Why are you breathing so fast? Is this how you normally breathe?” NO, that’s why I’m here. “Slow down.” After she walked me around, I was even shorter of breath. She said my breathing hadn’t changed. If she let me talk to her, she would have seen how much I could barely speak. “Breathe out your nose. Go to your Zen place.”

Excuse me? Yes, I have panic attacks sometimes. I also have asthma. I know the difference. Also, lady, I work with panic attacks for a living. If I even was having a panic attack - that is absolutely not how you de-escalate someone from a panic attack.


By the way, asthmatics absolutely do start to panic when they can’t breathe. That part is true. BECAUSE THEY CAN’T BREATHE. Not because they’re panicking.

Okay, rant over. I hope it was at least mildly entertaining. By the way, my asthma is a lot better today from all the steroids and nebulizers so I guess I should just see this as a happy ending.


-actual photo of me when happy

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