Last week after finding out just how damaged my lungs really are, the only thing going through my head was..WHY?

All of the assumptions I had made about my asthma throughout the years, suddenly didn’t seem to make sense anymore. I was beginning to wonder if I really ever had asthma at all? Maybe I just thought it was asthma, when it was actually something totally different? These are the crazy things that were going through my head. I had a ton of questions I desperately needed answered , and since she knows my lungs inside out(literally), who better to ask than the famous Dr Sally Wenzel.

Well, not only did she take the time to answer all of my questions, but the answers she gave ….made total sense.
I’m posting some of that discussion here, because I think it might help others out there who might be in a similar situation. At the very least, it makes a great refresher course for the RT’s out there.


[Steve ] Because my larger airways are so scarred and stiff, does that mean that they ‘re incapable of clamping up or spasming or narrowing? [Dr. Wenzel]  No, not completely, but certainly will be harder to spasm.

[Steve] If that’s the case, and my larger airways are not clamping down, when I have an exacerbation, is it the smaller airways that are reacting? [Dr.Wenzel] Yes, they most certainly are likely to be and because it is also likely that they are narrower to begin with, just a little spasm COULD effect it a lot.

[Steve] I thought there was no smooth muscle in the smaller airways? [Dr.Wenzel] There IS smooth muscle in your small airways. But, you probably ALSO have “Scarring”/fibrosis in those airways which probably leaves them normally much narrower than normal small airways. Just a little mucus or spasm and they will close.

[Steve] You mentioned earlier that I might not actually have chronic inflammation of my airways.  If there’s no inflammatory process going on, or no smooth muscle spasm going on, what causes the obstruction or air flow limitation when I flare-up? [Dr.Wenzel]  See answers above. In addition, you likely have “loss of alveolar-airway attachments”. The alveolar septae attach to the outside of the small airways and actually help to “tether” the airway open. When those get destroyed, as we think they do in SEVERE asthma, that tendency to PULL the airway open from the outside is lost.

If my airways are non twitchy or non-reactive because they are so stiff,  how is it that I can have severe asthma exacerbations that land me in the hospital and sometimes even on a ventilator? [Dr. Wenzel] Your lungs (I think) are very stiff and when you have an attack your work of breathing becomes VERY BIG. That is why your CO2 increases. In addition, you did have a couple of attacks where your lactate levels did increase… that also goes along with your breathing VERY HARD and causing your muscles to start breaking down.

[Steve] If my airways are so damaged, why do I respond, and even partially reverse, with certain bronchodilators and steroids.[Dr. Wenzel] Although you likely don’t have much inflammation, the little that is there (plus some edema) reverses with the steroids. The bronchodilators likely just relax your smooth muscle enough to have an effect, albeit not a big one!

[Steve] Do I have any elements of COPD or Emphysema? [Dr.Wenzel] NO you don’t have COPD OR EMPHYSEMA!!!!

[Steve]Isn’t that generally the course that asthma takes over the long term? [Sally] NO!!! ASTHMA ALMOST NEVER BECOMES EMPHYSEMA…unless you smoke!

[Steve] Regarding my FEV1s, I think the reason I got a 50% reading that one time, was because I exhaled less forcefully during that particular manover ( I was still sleepy from the bronchoscopy). For some reason, when I blast out as hard and as fast as I can, I get slightly lower numbers. ( I think because my airways are narrowing too fast?) [Sally] YES, that is most certainly the case. There is a FORCED vital capacity and a SLOW vital capacity (meaning just that, that you exhale SLOWLY from Total lung capacity to residual volume) It IS likely that your SMALL AIRWAYS do collapse when you exhale fast due to the external force on the airway being greater than the force holding them open during expiration (when you have negative pressures in the airways themselves) .

And finally, there was this….
[Steve] BTW…..The wager we had regarding me being able to ever blow a 50% FEV1 as a result of using Qvar , was that you would get a new set of golf clubs. [Sally]  hee-heee… I expect only the finest clubs when I get you there!

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6 thoughts on “Questions for Sally

  1. Hi Stephen: Thanks for the detailed discussion between Dr. Wenzel and yourself. I often wonder about the complex dynamics of my large and small airways …and though I am not as severe as you, I know that stuff is going on that shouldn't : ) ! I am improving from my most recent flare-up and saw my doc on Wed. He did note I have some COPD…I suspect chronic bronchitis from all the infections I've had. And I NEVER smoked. Hoping you had a great holiday. Keep on keeping on!

  2. stephen sounds like your doing good was wondering if your breath is wet???? i thought that was normalbut last time in the hospital dr said mine wass really wet???? and then in same sentence said it's probable small case of CF i mean what the _______ and then left the room like that was ok!!!! after 53 yrs you'd think someone would of said something???? do you know anything about this??? well hope you had a good holiday marsh

    1. Sorry, I don't know what you mean about my breath being "wet" ? Did you mean , do my lungs sound wet? Generally , my lungs sound very dry unless I have a chest cold, which is rare for me.

  3. my breath is wet to touch kind of warm and wet??? you can feel it on back of your hand or have your friend let you blow on his forarm it's wierd i know but it's really damp??? have a good day marsh

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