Here’s an asthma related type symptom you don’t hear too much about.

So, I was working on one of the dozens of unfinished drafts I have for this blog using my phone, when it dawns on me; wouldn’t it be easier and a lot faster to compose this post with talk-to text dictation, instead of trying to type it on my tiny phone keyboard? You would think it would be, right? Well apparently not, at least for me. It was actually way more difficult to speak the words out loud, than typing them. With each sentence I spoke, I found myself getting increasingly short of breath. Sometimes my voice was so airy or raspy sounding that the phone either wasn’t picking it up or wasn’t interpreting the words correctly. It was frustrating to the point where I needed to use my inhaler more than once just to complete a paragraph. I finally gave up and finished typing the post on my PC.

This is just the latest of revelations Ive had about becoming short of breath while speaking, but I found the topic compelling enough that I decided to write a about and ended ditching the draft I was originally working on ended up writing this post instead. Being chronically short of breath from asthma or or other lung disease, not only makes it difficult to exercise, but it can also impact something we take for granted, the ability to speak, to talk. With severe asthma it can take a lot of effort to do something most people take for granted, like talking.

Having lived with this disease my entire life and experiencing breathlessness to some degree pretty much all the time, Ive always been aware of how difficult it can be to breath while doing things that require extra physical exertion. You know, the obvious things like walking fast or running, climbing stairs, doing errands, exercising, etc. But I never really payed much attention to my voice or how difficult it could be to talk, even when Im wasn’t doing an physical activity. It wasn’t until just a couple of years or so that I noticed that when I would talk on the phone, or video chat with someone for more than a few minutes, that I get really short of breath and my voice would start cutting out. It seems that just the act of moving my lips and talking was making me short of breath.

No doubt my voice is worse when my asthma gets bad, but even when Im not actively flaring, I still get very short of breath if I speak for too long or I speak to loud. Just recently I video chatted with a good friend who I hadn’t talked to in a long time. We ended talking for over 2 hours. I was getting really short of breath and pacing myself. I got so tight that I desaturated and needed back to back nebs.

Or how about this, have you ever been in the middle of an asthma flare, having a difficult time breathing while in the hospital, only to have a Nurse or Doctor say..” You’re speaking in full sentences, so you can’t be that short of breath “? WTF? Are you a mind reader now too, or are you just spouting off off something you read in a medical book? True, it’s definitely more difficult to speak when you can’t breath, but it can certainly be done and many of us do it all the time when were flaring. It’s not that youre any less short of breath, you just learn to adapt by cramming in more words in per breath, nothing magical about that. Granted, if you were literally suffocating or choking on some it might be impossible to get a single word out, but that’s a heck of stretch from struggling with an asthma flare, no matter how severe.

Since we’re on the subject of learning and adapting, here’s something that’s kinda cool, As a child when my asthma kicked up and I was wheezing and couldn’t breath, I would sit on my bed, legs crossed ( what they call tri-podding) and I would mumble or moan when I would breath out, effectively prolonging the expiratory phase. Little did I know then, is that by “talking” or moaning I was actually creating positive pressure which would stent my airways open and prevent them from collapsing. In medical terms, this is referred to PEEP or “Positive End Expiratory Pressure”. This would be the equivalent of someone instinctually doing purse-lip breathing, something that is usually taught to people with COPD.

My voice has always been, for lack of a better word, airy or high pitched sounding. After I developed glottic stenosis, my voice became really strained and frequently cuts out, mid-sentence. Multiple dilation surgeries on my vocal cord hasn’t really improved it. As far as the actual tone or timbre of my voice, Ill let you be the judge with this clip….

On a more personal level, and this may not sound like a big deal for most people, but I’ve noticed when attempting to speak Italian, that its very difficult for me now to roll my RRs. Im pretty sure this is because of all the dilation surgeries Ive had for glottic stenosis, which sometime can affect the muscles in your tongue. Glottic stenosis is course is a result of all the intubations that Ive had for my asthma. Might sound petty, but when you’re trying to speak, in any language, and it doesn’t come out right, it’s frustrating and even embarrassing.

If any of this resonates with you , drop me a line. Id love to hear your thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “Speechless

  1. Lizzie says:

    Yes! I really struggle to read bed time stories to my kids. I often don’t notice it, but then they say “mummy you’re making that weird breathy noise”..

    On another note- in hosp and re reading your old ‘I am worthy’ post. It helped.

  2. Hello, Im so sorry to hear you’re in the hospital, I just got out myself. No fun having breathing problems.

    I see that you’re from the UK. I would imagine that hospital care for asthma in the UK is a little different. Patients in your country tend to stay in the hospital much longer for asthma. Here, if you have a pulse, you’re ready to go home…lol Everything is money, money money!

    I hope you feel better soon.

  3. Carron says:

    Hi, Steve! Thank you for writing about this topic! I have been diagnosed with asthma-related paradoxical motion vocal chord dysphonia. I lose my voice during asthma incidents. My husband noticed this as an early-warning signal for me in my anaphylactic incidences. I literally can’t get any sound out. Then, on “low-breathing days,” I sound a lot like your audio clip. This was frustrating for me one time in the ER because the dr. wanted to treat me for bronchitis first. I couldn’t tell him no, asthma first! Now I have a sheet in my hand when in ER or paramedics come to me. It tells them all my medical conditions and I can point to the emphasized print saying “I lose my voice during asthma incidences!”

  4. That’s a great idea Carron. The letter can speak for you, if you cant.

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