I am not an asthma sufferer, but this weekend I got an idea of how terrible an attack can feel and how precious simple breathing can be.
I attended the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) conference in Philadelphia this weekend along with Sloane Miller, one of our writers and an allergy and asthma sufferer.
The exhibit hall was filled with drug company displays and their reps talking up the wonders of their drugs. It looked like an amusement park inside the convention center with gold and purple banners undulating across the ceiling and lines forming at the cappucino machines.
Way off in the corner of the exhibit hall was a hot pink virtual reality machine called the Air Experience.
From Genentech, the makers of Xolair, it was a machine that simulated what breathing is like for asthmatics. The rep tightly strapped a vest on me around my chest and then handed me some paper 3D specs to watch the video inside the pink pod called "The Air Experience."
She hooked the vest up to an air valve inside the pod and turned on the video. It was four minutes, following a woman suffering asthma. As she suffered asthma symptoms, air pumped into the vest and a bubble inflated and pressed down hard on my sternum. I tried to breath deep, but the vest hardly let my ribs expand the way they normally do all the time - the way I take for granted. When she took a puff on her rescue inhaler, the bubble would deflate just enough to allow me to get an extra sip of air. And I was grateful for it.
Frankly, the simulation was painful. I couldn't get as much air as I wanted and it did feel like a heavy person was sitting on my chest. But, I sat calmly and breathed as deeply as I could, knowing it would be over soon and I wouldn't have to do it again. Ten minutes after I got out of the machine, my chest still hurt and I still felt like it was hard to breathe.
I looked silly and felt silly, but the lesson was real. That tiny glimpse into what it's like for you -- who search the web for asthma information and who come to our site for information from our experts -- was a real eye-opener. I'll keep it in mind as I improve the site -- and anything you want me to know, keep in mind or add to your experience, please let me know. I want this to be a space that works for you.
Published On: March 16, 2008