Monday, April 09, 2007

An Asthma Attack While I Slept

I woke up around 6:00 a.m. unable to breathe, gasping for air. I had to fumble around for the lamp switch because I couldn't find my emergency inhaler on the nightstand in the dark. Fortunately, I was able to get to it and take a few puffs before I got too light-headed. This is the third time this year that I've woken up in the middle of the night having an asthma attack. It's really scaring me.

Unlike all the other times, last night no one heard me wheezing. When I woke up, everyone else was still fast asleep and stayed that way. VanGoghGirl was in the bed with me and The German was sleeping in the room adjacent to mine. I resisted the urge to wake up him up afterwards because then he would have been too worried to go back to sleep. Things are hard enough on him as it is. I can't begrudge him whatever rest he manages to get in between taking care of me. Unless he reads it here, I'm not going to tell him about last night.

I'm worried about why I'm having these sudden asthma attacks in my sleep. Despite having asthma my entire life, I never had an attack in my sleep until the past year. I've had times where I was sick with a cold or the flu and feeling wheezy in the evening so I used my pump before I went to bed but this is new. Each time, these attacks in my sleep occurred I didn't have any reason to believe that an attack might be coming on.

I'm really afraid. What if no one had woken up and I had passed out because I was unable to get to one of my inhalers? I keep one on my nightstand and another one on the counter in the bathroom connected to my bedroom. Perhaps I hadn't been gasping very loud; I don't know. I was too panicked to think about that at the time.

When my mother was in college, one of her professors had an asthma attack while in the classroom. By the time that the students got her inhaler out of her purse and my mother administered it, the professor's throat had closed up too much for it to do any good. She died in my mother's arms right there in the middle of class surrounded by students trying to help her.

Why is this happening? It could be because of the scar tissue in my chest. It may be diminishing the air capacity in my lungs. The German says it might be from turning onto my stomach while sleeping. I am terrified that it might be a sign that my cancer has metastisized into my lungs.


Donna said...

You need to see your doctor about this. It might just be the asthma, but you need to know for sure. Also I know they have sleep monitors for babies with sleep apnea, I wonder if you could get something like that, that would alert you and others in your house when you are having an asthma attack at night. I'd also wear a string around my neck and tie an inhaler to it, that way it is right there, no fumbling for it, if you need it quickly at night.

I hope it's nothing too serious or that your doctor can't help you manage. You're in my prayers.

belledame222 said...


is it possible that i don't know spring allergies are contributing here? sorry if that comes off as ignorant/unhelpful. i just know that, while i don't have asthma, i often find it hard to breathe this time of year (actually many times of year, but then there are many allergens in the naked city here, not just pollen...)

belledame222 said...

also, this might be even less helpful, but:

i thought you mentioned something about having nightmares recently, didn't you?

i understand your asthma is physiological ; still, i can't help wondering if anxiety might be playing a part...

anyway, i agree with donna: get it checked out. having the inhaler attached --if not around your neck, maybe your wrist or the bedpost or something, also a good idea.

belledame222 said...

one more thought: the anti-deps might be having some side effects.

belledame222 said...

at any rate, just speaking from an observer's perspective:

1) i don't claim to know much about it, and again, totally worth getting checked out, but my first thought was that if it were serious lung trouble it wouldn't be like, you didn't have any reason to believe an attack might be coming on, you're just getting these new attacks specifically during your sleep.

2) everything i'm reading here does sound like the anxiety's been really jacked up lately, which may be at least partly due to the new meds. and, ime, can definitely have effects on one's breathing and heart rate, especially if one then gets flooded with scary thoughts about What It Means.

Anonymous said...

dust mites. in your bed. they live on shedding skin.

Disgruntled Ladye said...

Stopping in via The Gimp Parade. I've enjoyed reading, so I'll de-lurk to say:

Waking up like that sucks! It's only happened to me a few times, but it really freaks me out too.

Ktrion said...

Hey, mujer, L* and I totally understand where you're coming from! I think that's one of the hardest thing for friends and even support people (like me) to understand is that constant self-monitoring and the sense of fear.

L* had developed a cough some months back and was convinced it was lung metz. She went to her doctor for a lung scan, and when it came back clear, her cough went away.

Now me, on the other hand, I've had asthma all my life. I, too, in the past month or so have woken up with an asthma attack. In general, I find asthma attacks to be pretty scary, because you can't breathe.

(Actually now that I think of it, I have many many dreams when I can't draw enough breath to scream: I wonder if this is related to my asthma/fear)

Do talk to your doctor about it.

Do you have a peak flow meter? My doctor recommended that I take my peak flow at least once a week, but once a day is better. That way you can see a problem coming before it turns into an asthma attack. (We also got L* a peak flow meter, because she has developed asthma in the past five years.)

You can download a simple chart that will show whether you're in the "green zone" or the yellow or red zones.

In addition to my regular albuterol inhaler, I also have a serevent inhaler. During periods when my peak flow is not as high, or when I catch a cold or the pollution is bad, I use my serevent inhaler twice a day: once in the morning and once before bed. You can also use your albuterol inhaler this way, when you're having a bad spell.

Oh yeah, pollution! In January I was having lots and lots of asthma attacks, and then I realized that the Bay Area was having high pollution days and that was also contributing to it.

Warm abrazos,


Foofa said...

I used to wake up a lot with asthma attacks. Usually I would cough along with them and my parents would come in from the room next door and get my nebulizer going. Sleeping at a bit of an incline helps keep airways open. It is incredibly scary but keeping calm really helps because asthma is effected by stress. I also do what they used to call belly breathing. Taking in a really deep breath and holding it, then letting it out slowly helps calm an asthma attack.

Anonymous said...

Please read on the internet about the Buteyko Breathing Method.

The British Thoracic Association:

PubMed Central:

Its not simple to accept a change in our concept about asthma, but - there is a way out!

Good luck,

Anonymous said...

I can't even pretend to know about the medical stuff but I am sending so much love you can't ignore me!


Kay Olson said...

Gah! This made me think about the nightmares you've mentioned. But if there's a chance it's something like sleep apnea, consider a sleep study.

I hope you can solve the mystery and get some good sleep soon.

Anonymous said...

Wow know how you feel its freaky having an attack in the middle of sleep, i have an attack almost evry night, around 4am, sometimes i stay up just to wait for the attck so as i can get a good sleep, only to wake up after a good sleep choking and gasping again, the way i get round it is, have as many inhalers around the house as possible, under the bed, under the pillow, on the bedroom floor, cause thats often where i end up. Man asthma is very complex at times.

lowercasegold said...

Hi, I was diagnosed with asthma last year and its usually under control but in the last week ive had two horrible incidents when ive been dreaming really weird things where ive woken up and cant breathe at all, as if there is no oxygen in the room. Its almost as if its a panic attack in a dream which turns out to be real. When I was about 8 which is nearly 20 years ago, i woke up and couldnt breathe, i couldnt even shout for my mum and had to push everything by the side of my bed onto the floor to wake someone up, Im really concerned about recent events as it is something which I had tried to block from my mind because it was so scary.
I will visit my doctor next week, maybe you should do the same just to be on the safe side.
Best wishes x x

Unknown said...

Asthma attacks are not just a bad dream - allergy triggered asthma attacks are most common at night- if you can eliminate breathing in those triggers like dustmites or mold or pollen then you will reduce the chance of an attack- there is a new product out that lets you sleep in a protective bubble of HEPA filtered air - check out
a 30 day trial is only $49 if you use the code JW0050

Unknown said...

- A great asthma attack occurs within your body's air passages, which can be the actual walkways which have atmosphere on your voice.