*warning, possible long post*
That would be me…wheezing…coughing…sounding like a 70 year old smoker. The past few days have been bad breathing days for me, with today being the worst so far. For those of you that don’t know (like I have more than a couple of people reading this!) I have Tracheal Stenosis. It sounds all fancy, but it basically just means that my trachea (throat) is restricted (just under my vocal cords) so that breathing is difficult.
The trachea on the left is normal, the other two are examples of the narrowing. This is usually caused by damage to the trachea through intubation, from repeated heartburn, or an illness such as bronchitis that went untreated. In some cases it is a birth defect, but these are typically found soon after birth. In my case, my doctor has no idea what caused it. I had never had any sort of surgery so I’d never been intubated. I don’t have heartburn and I didn’t remember having any sort of bad respiratory infection that went untreated.
About 2 years ago (or 3…I’ve lost count) I started having horrible allergies. I also didn’t know that allergies could just start for the fun of it. I had never had any breathing problems or allergy issues before so why after 34 years am I suddenly sneezing my head off and coughing all the time? At first I thought I had a cold so I didn’t do anything about it. I could feel drainage in the back of my throat and would have to cough from time to time to clear my airway. Again, I didn’t think much of it. I figured it would go away before too long. Unfortunately, it didn’t go away. I went to North Carolina to visit my parents and brother’s family when I noticed there was something wrong with my breathing. I couldn’t hardly walk up a hill without huffing and puffing. I just wasn’t able to get much oxygen into my lungs.
When we got back I went to a doctor to see what was going on. He told me I had asthma. My brother had asthma and my mother did, so I didn’t doubt that it was possible but I also know how it manifests itself and my symptoms were not asthmatic. He gave me an inhaler and told me to use it when I needed to. That meant I used it nearly every day; However, it didn’t do much for me. Of course, that didn’t surprise me because I knew it wasn’t asthma. I wasn’t feeling the problem in my lungs, it was in my throat. You know that little divot in your neck right between your collarbones? That’s where it was.
I went another doctor for a second opinion. He told me it was allergies and asthma. I explained why I didn’t think it was asthma, only to have him pat my hand and explain why I was wrong. So, I decided “Fine…let’s test this out”. When I got home, I made an appointment with an allergist. I was going to get to the bottom of this no matter what it was. By this point I’d been having breathing issues and allergies for over a year with no relief. After my allergy testing was done I found out that I am most allergic to dogs (yeah…I have two dogs), then cats, feathers (the feather comforter had to go), dust, and Thompson grass. He started me on allergy drops and sent me home.
I decided I’d give the allergy drops 6 months to see if they worked, if not then I may have to consider sending my dogs to new homes.
I know! How could I get rid of those lovely babies?! I had been trying to lose weight and exercise more but every time I exerted myself at all I started sounding horrible. It was very embarrassing to have people look at me like I was about to die. In truth, my legs weren’t tired and my body felt like I could push harder but I just couldn’t breathe. I just wanted AIR! So, I stopped exercising and settled into a bout of self-pity. Yeah, like that helps anyone! My allergy drops weren’t working and I was just about to give up and learn to live with it. However, I decided I’d go back to my allergist and explain my breathing issues to him and see what he said.
He listened to my lungs, then my throat through a stethoscope and he confirmed what I had known all along. It was in my throat, not my lungs, that I was having my problems. At that point, I felt 2 things: 1) Relief that I wasn’t crazy and a doctor was finally listening to me and 2) Scared to death because I had no idea how they would fix that. He put a scope down my throat (not pleasant) and confirmed that I had tracheal stenosis. After looking at him like he’d just told me aliens had planted a pod in my body, he explained that the reason I wasn’t getting the oxygen I needed was because my throat was closed off to about 3mm, so it was effectively like breathing through a drinking straw. AAhhh….well, that explains that. I also had a persistent cough because my body felt there was something lodged there. He referred me to Dr. D in the Medical Center and assured me that he was the best person to deal with this sort of thing.
I left my allergist’s office feeling better than I had in a long time.
To keep this post from being a novel, I’m dividing it into parts.