Not that Im able to sleep that much anyway, when I do it’s usually from pure exhaustion. But when I do fall asleep it sure would be nice not to be interrupted by a terrifying nightmare involving an acute severe asthma attack. Not to be confused with a medical condition called PND (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea), which is usually caused by heart problem, the shortness of breath I experience in my dreams is the same kind of shortness of breath I experience when Im awake, so it’s obviously due to my lung disease. Ive had asthma continuously since birth, it’s just part of my world, so it’s no surprise that it sometimes carries over into my dreams. But while it’s one thing to be short of breath in your dreams, it’s quite another to have a full on asthma attack begin in a dream only to get worse after you’re awake. But that’s exactly what happens to me and it happens quite often. Seems like there’s no place to hide from the cruel disease.
Case in point, last night I had a dream where I was being held against my will by a bad person pointing a gun at my head. He threatened to shoot me if I made any sudden moves. Being a severe asthmatic, the anxiety of the situation caused my airways to tighten up more than usual. I hid my breathing discomfort from the bad guy as long as I could, but it got so bad I couldnt take it any more. I asked my captor if I could please use my inhaler. At first he balked at my request, but after pleading with him he agreed to let me have 2 puffs off the inhaler, but NO MORE. Anticipating the relief I would get following those puffs, I grabbed my inhaler from my pocket and took the first hit. As I went to take the 2nd hit I got distracted mid puff and the medicine didnt get into my lungs at all. Immediate panic set in. I knew one puff wouldn’t cut it and it sure didn’t. I started getting tighter and tighter by the second and more anxious. I got to the point where I simply couldnt move any air at all and my chest started aching really bad. I thought ,here we go, my asthma is finally gonna kill me and people will think I was asleep when it happened. Then as I started to black out….I suddenly woke up and almost catapulted myself right out of the bed. I was sweating profusely and gasping for air like a fish out of water. As I reoriented myself, I thought to myself, thank god it was a just a nightmare. But was it really just a nightmare??
The bronchospasm and that feeling of suffocation that I was experiencing in my dream was still very much present after I awoke. Not knowing how tight I actually was, I grabbed my peak flow meter and sure enough I was seriously obstructed… my peak flow was less than 60! ( my red zone starts at 200). I always have a pre-loaded neb ready to go at bedside for my nighttime symptoms, so I started on that and after about 5 minutes I finally started getting some relief.I followed up the neb treatment with additional 2 puffs of albuterol from my inhaler, and was breathing easy enough to lay partially back down and close my eyes again. Dont think I fell back to sleep, but I stayed in bed until 4am, which is when I normally get. Talk about an scary way to start your day.
The phenomenon of your disease following you into your dreams is actually pretty common, but with diseases that involve severe breathing problems it can be downright dangerous. What if I had not been able to wake up during the crisis, could I have actually suffocated during a dream about suffocating? It also begs the question, can falling asleep when you have chronic breathing problems, trigger a dream that involves a severe asthma attack, or is it the other way around? Does the scene that’s playing out in the dream cause some sort of internal anxiety that triggers a very real and life threatening attack ? Does the fact that I woke up during the peak of this latest nightmare, indicate that there might be some kind of survival mechanism in play that summons the brain to wake the person up so that they dont die. It really makes me really wonder.
Thankfully, these asthma related nightmares don’t happen every night, but despite pre-nebbing before I hit the sack, they still occur at least once a month. What a way to live, eh.