So there I was, sitting at the dining room table, working on my computer, with a battering headache. So, like I had many times before, I took two Excedrin®. Within an hour, I began to notice that my breathing was becoming difficult. Grabbing my albuterol inhaler, I took a couple of puffs and returned to my work. Into the second hour, I was really tightening up. Having been recently diagnosed with allergic asthma, I would, from time to time, experience some slight wheezing, mostly in response to triggers like dander, pollen, and other wind-borne assailants. But I had never before been in the grip of this vice-like hand squeezing the air out of me! I took another two puffs and called my personal nurse, aka my wife, to alert her to my symptoms. Not long after our call, I took two more puffs and thought to myself: I’m going to be a statistic – they’re going to find me dead with my inhaler in my hand. When is this albuterol going to kick in?! Just as I was coming to grips with the reality of dialing 9-1-1, my wife arrived, threw me in the car, and rushed me to the ER, where I soon found myself on the business end of nebulizer. It was surreal. Only years later would I understand that these symptoms, precipitated by the headache medicine along with others, were part of an often-misdiagnosed condition known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD).
A full list of symptoms associated with AERD include:
Chronic sinus infections
Loss of sense of smell and taste
Increased nasal congestion or stuffiness
Eye watering or redness
Cough, wheezing, or chest tightness
Frontal headache or sensation of sinus pain
Flushing and/or a rash
Nausea and/or abdominal cramping
General feeling of malaise, sometimes accompanied by dizziness1
These symptoms are, to say the least, very inconvenient for sufferers of AERD, requiring occasional sinus surgeries, multiple daily medications, and the vigilant avoidance of various foods and other triggers, especially alcohol. The good news is there is a “cure,” but it will likely take your breath away. I’ll explain in my next post.