I quit smoking then developed asthma.
April 26, 2010 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I quit smoking two months ago, started running and weightlifting, am getting in good shape, and have inexplicably developed severe asthma seemingly out of nowhere. I have no insurance. I'm in NYC. Three questions: Why did this happen after I quit smoking? Should I see a GP or a specialist? How expensive are typical asthma meds?

(Note: I had asthma as a kid and used an inhaler, but thought I grew out of it. It would flare up once a year or so but the last two weeks have been miserable.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This happened to me, too. Had asthma as a child, no particular asthma while smoking, and then it returned when I quit. I don't know why it happened, but at least you know it's not just you.
posted by headspace at 10:11 AM on April 26, 2010

Total non-medical opinion here, but is it possibly exercise-induced asthma? If the running started when the smoking stopped, the smoking could be unrelated.

And if it were me, I would talk to my GP first, to see what she though and have her refer me to the correct type of specialist if need be.

And of course, the price of asthma meds - and any meds - varies widely by what type and what insurance.
posted by brainmouse at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2010

Were you running and weightlifting while smoking? Perhaps you didn't exert yourself enough to exacerbate the condition.
posted by The White Hat at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2010

a google search of your terms reveals that asthmatic symptoms after quitting smoking are pretty common, but for a variety of different reasons. you should definitely go to a doctor, but here are some things to consider:

how long did you smoke and how much?

when did the symptoms start?

do you have seasonal allergies? you know it's spring, right?

could you have had a cold/bronchitis when you quit smoking?

according to some health references, the asthma symptoms could just be your lungs clearing out crap, in a way they couldn't when you were smoking. or, if you were a long-term, heavy smoker, you could have the beginnings of COPD.

you really, really need to see a doctor, because asthma is no joke.
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:15 AM on April 26, 2010

It may be exercise-induced asthma.

I developed asthma at 32. While I've never been a smoker, I have suffered from hayfever since I was a kid, and if my hayfever is severe, I will also get wheezy.

My doctor has prescribed the "red" Symbicort turbohaler. The "red" turbohaler (ask you doctor about it) contains a "rescuer" as well as medication that manages asthma symptoms - traditionally asthma patients were prescribed separate inhalers and rescuers, such as Ventolin.

Ventolin actually damages your lungs over the long term, so it's not a good way to manage asthma, although using it before going to the gym can help with exercise-induced asthma.

I'm in Canada, so prices may be different, but branded products such as Symbicort should cost about the same as in the US. I believe a 6-month dose of Symbicort should cost about $50, while a 6-month dose of Ventolin costs about $25.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

This could also be seasonal allergies. I know of several who suddenly experienced them for the first time ever (in the tri state area) when they quit.

Older asthma meds are pretty cheap w/o insurance, but you should state up front that you don't have insurance so they don't prescribe $4/ea pills to you or anything. A GP should be fine esp since you don't really know what's triggering your symptoms. (Sidenote: I've always had good luck with "Docs" while uninsured, but their reviews are pretty bad..)
posted by shownomercy at 10:39 AM on April 26, 2010

IANAD, TINMA. I also have the exercise-induced asthma, it seems to be fairly common. I have a salbutamol inhaler if I need it (although I haven't used it much in the past 5 years). I don't know how much it is but it's pretty darn cheap and it lasts a long time if you don't use it all that often.

I suppose it's possible that since you quit smoking, you're also getting all the crap out of your lungs (not to mention that fat tends to store toxins, which you are probably releasing into your blood stream as you "burn" it off). You might also want to visit a naturopath. Mine "prescribed" me a (harmless) supplement called N-AC (N-Acetyle Cysteine, I think) which helps to detoxify but it also made my lungs much clearer and was easier to breathe. (I believe hospitals use it on asthma patients intravenously as it's a mucolytic agent and an expectorant--they also use it for Tylenol overdoses.) I was also prescribed it to detoxify (chelate metals), increase antioxidants (glutathione) to strengthen my immune system, and protect my kidneys (family hx of Kidney Cancer).

Best wishes for good health, and congrats on the healthier lifestyle!
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:44 AM on April 26, 2010

Also, this has been a fairly AWFUL year for pollen & such (I just got over one of the worst lung-torturing weeks in history) -- if you've been outside more than usual, that might be exacerbating your condition, too.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:01 PM on April 26, 2010

It's also known that smoking can inhibit asthma by suppressing the immune system. "The Thorn in the Starfish: The Immune System and How it Works" by Robert S. Desowitz is a popular science book that mentions this.
posted by SandiBeech at 1:58 PM on April 26, 2010

I also wanted to chime in that this may be exercise-induced. Even when my asthma symptoms seem well-controlled, I cough (my primary asthma symptom) consistently during exercise without use of an inhaler.

I saw my primary care physician when I realized that the bronchitis I thought I had the entire time I was training for a half-marathon might actually be asthma. She prescribed me the lowest dose possible, and an allergist upped the dosage considerably a few weeks later. The allergy clinic provides me with a little more contact and follow-up about my asthma and allergies, but I've seen my primary care physician about my asthma a couple of times when it was flaring up in response to cold/flu.
posted by gummie at 3:04 PM on April 26, 2010

It's also known that smoking can inhibit asthma by suppressing the immune system

Indeed possible. High-dose but not low-dose mainstream cigarette smoke suppresses allergic airway inflammation by inhibiting T cell function.

Part of the introduction:
The relationship between cigarette smoking and asthma is complex and poorly understood. Epidemiological studies have identified childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, or "second-hand smoke") as a significant risk factor for the onset and exacerbation of asthma (8, 13, 14, 32). In adults, some studies have shown an association between both active and passive smoking and asthma severity (8–10), whereas other studies have failed to find such associations (38, 49). It has also been reported that cigarette smoking can attenuate allergic asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis in a dose-dependent manner (17) and that, whereas smokers generally have higher levels of circulating IgE antibodies, they are less likely than nonsmokers to be sensitized to some environmental allergens (18, 19).

Regardless, you should still see a doctor.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:16 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you used any chlorine bleach lately? I would get short of breath pretty quickly as a kid but it was never diagnosed as asthma until I had an attack after cleaning a windowless bathroom a couple of decades ago and thereafter, I've had really rotten seasonal allergies/congestion.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:26 PM on April 26, 2010

Could be quitter's flu.
posted by lorrer at 5:25 PM on April 26, 2010

IANAD but I've had asthma for all of my 34 years, and thus have a pretty good working knowledge of the condition. See a GP first. From your account, and to n'th others upthread, it sounds as if you have some exercise induced asthma that can be treated with a "rescue" inhaler, which would contain albuterol. Unfortunately for you (and I) albuterol inhalers used to be generic. This was reformulated a couple years ago to make the propellant environmentally friendly, so albuerol inhalers are now brand name medicines, with a corresponding price increase. Possibly your GP has samples of the medicines you require - if you're only experiencing symptoms infrequently, you may not need too high a dose/usage of the drugs., and thus may not need a recurring prescription (I use ProAir, and with insurance, it's $25 for a 200 metered inhalation size; I'm pretty sure without the insurance I would pay around $50).

Your GP will let you know if you need to take something like Advair Diskus (very, very expensive - think like $100's of dollars if you're uninsured - I pay $50/month for 500/50, and I think the corresponding non-insurance cost is around $360) or such to control symptoms over the long term. In addition your GP will let you know if you need to see a pulmonologist if your asthma is severe enough to warrant.

tl;dr version - see a GP, get the dope you need as a sample.
posted by jivadravya at 12:29 PM on April 27, 2010

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