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How I Overcame Asthma That Would Not Quit (by Joe Graedon)

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When I was a kid I was allergic to lots of stuff--ragweed, cat dander, grass pollens, mold and fungi (Alternaria). I would sneeze continuously every morning in the spring and fall. It was nothing for me to sneeze 30 or 40 times in a row nonstop.

When I caught a cold I would frequently develop a nasty wheeze that was eventually diagnosed as asthma. My mother dragged me off to an allergist and I was subjected to allergy shots for a couple of years.

Eventually, the allergies and the asthma disappeared. I don't know if I grew out of both or if the shots eventually worked. I just stopped experiencing symptoms. A cold was just a cold.

For decades I was symptom free. Then about 10 years ago I came down with a nasty upper respiratory tract infection in the middle of the winter. The cough was horrible and it lingered for many weeks. Along with the cough I also developed a wheeze. The wheeze, especially at bedtime, finally got me to my doctor and eventually a specialist.

A pulmonary expert at a major medical center diagnosed "reactive airway disease." He suggested that the old asthma was back, triggered by the bad cold and lung infection. The solution: inhaled steroids (fluticasone in the form of Flovent) and an albuterol bronchodilator (Ventolin). [He wanted to prescribe Advair (a combination of fluticasone & salmeterol), but I had read too many things about the dangers of long-acting bronchodilators to go along with that plan.]

The lung specialist suggested that I use the two puffers liberally to get my lung function back into the normal range, especially if I ever caught another cold. Gradually, the cough disappeared and the wheeze along with it. My lungs seemed OK...for a while. I went back to playing tennis, hiking and doing all the normal exercise activities I love with no problem.

The next winter another cold and cough brought back the wheeze. The inhalers weren't all that helpful, but they seemed to calm things enough for me to keep using them. One downside to the steroid fluticasone was hoarseness. Since my voice is essential for what I do (live radio on over 120 stations around the country), this side effect of corticosteroids was quite troublesome. Eventually, the cough and the asthma faded away and I once again was back on the courts playing tennis.

This roller coaster ride seemed to repeat itself every winter. You could track my lung function with the number of cough drops I consumed. During a day taping radio interviews I could go through a dozen or more lozenges to keep from coughing and sounding hoarse. Every year I would get a renewal on my Flovent and Ventolin inhalers, even though they weren't very effective. I thought of them a bit like a crutch, just in case I developed a bad cough or wheeze, especially at night.

Let's take a detour. About four to five years ago, David Hahn, MD, MS, a physician in Madison, Wisconsin, contacted us about a book he was writing called A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn't Telling You--And Why. We were intrigued by his idea that many hard-to-treat asthma patients have a chronic lung infection. The bacterial invader, Chlamydia pneumoniae, could lurk in the lungs for months or years and cause inflammation. According to Dr. Hahn, treating the symptoms with steroids or bronchodilators would not solve the problem. He had a lot of research to back up his experience treating patients with antibiotics to actually cure the infection underlying the lung irritation and the asthma.

We were interested enough to interview Dr. Hahn on our radio show. He shared the program with Monica Kraft, MD. She is Professor of Medicine and founding director of the Duke Asthma, Allergy and Airway Center. She is Chief of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at Duke University Medical Center. She is also past President of the American Thoracic Society. Rather than discounting Dr. Hahn's theory, Dr. Kraft related her own experience treating some infectious cases of asthma that responded to antibiotics.

We thought Dr. Hahn's message was interesting enough that we encouraged him to contact mainstream book agents and publishers. None were willing to publish his manuscript, but we thought the work was important enough that we created People's Pharmacy Press and decided to publish his book ourselves. That was last year.

I never thought that Dr. Hahn's book related to my lung situation. I didn't consider myself asthmatic. For one thing, I was not in the "hard-to-treat" category. Although inhalers never seemed to work very well, my wheezing was only related to a winter cold and cough. After a few weeks the wheezing generally disappeared by itself regardless of the prescribed medications. The wheeze didn't interfere with my activities. I just never felt like a patient in need of treatment. I hadn't been back to the lung expert in years.

Everything changed this past winter, though. During the holidays I came down with a nasty cold that really settled in my lungs. The first couple of nights the cough was so bad that I couldn't sleep. I tried Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet and it did little to soothe my hacking. (Vicks usually calms my cough beautifully). I was going through a bag of cough drops every few days.

Eventually the cough was so bad I bought a bottle of codeine-containing cough medicine from a compounding pharmacy. It barely helped. The wheeze was back with a vengeance and I was using the Flovent inhaler every night along with the albuterol puffer. My voice was hoarse from the corticosteroid and the radio interviews were a huge challenge. I was short of breath. Just climbing a flight of stairs had me exhausted. In bed you could hear the wheeze even with the asthma medicine on board. I felt like crap. I had no energy, my lungs were twitchy and my life was a mess. Tennis was out of the question.

After more than 10 weeks I had had enough. I went to see my family doctor in desperation. She heard the wheeze clear as day and observed the deep hacking cough first hand. She prescribed heavy-duty cough medicine (containing the narcotic hydrocodone) along with a week's worth of azithromycin. She considered the possibility that I might have a mycobacterial lung infection or even C. pneumoniae (a la Dr. Hahn). I had my doubts, but was willing to give this combo (cough medicine plus antibiotic) a try. After nearly three months of non-stop coughing and wheezing I was ready for just about anything.

Within two days I started feeling better. After the course of antibiotics I almost felt like my old self. The cough and the wheeze were distinctly better, but within several days of stopping the antibiotic I started slipping back into the cough/wheeze cycle again. The inhalers weren't helping and I was desperate. I had seen such dramatic improvement so quickly that I began to think maybe I did have the very infection Dr. Hahn was writing about in his book, A Cure for Asthma?

I sent a copy of the book to my doctor, who actually read it and after a little consideration decided to go ahead with Dr. Hahn's 3-month program involving once-weekly dosing of azithromycin. Again, after a few days on this antibiotic I was coughing less and the wheeze was disappearing. Within a week or two I felt pretty much back to normal. Within a month I was back playing tennis. The cough drops were gone and the inhalers were a memory.

Was it coincidence? Was I about to get over my cough and wheeze independently of the antibiotic? I don't think so. After about six weeks I thought I was cured and decided to stop the azithromycin. Within about a week the cough and wheeze were back. Within a few days of resuming the treatment I was back in good shape. Right now I am playing tennis regularly and yesterday I pushed myself on the elliptical trainer at the gym and didn't experience any coughing or wheezing.

Did azithromycin "cure" my asthma? Well, I can't say for sure, but I am feeling much better than before the antibiotic. My experience is not that different from some of the other cases Dr. Hahn describes in his book.

If you would like to learn more about this approach, here is a link to Dr. Hahn's book, A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn't Telling You--And Why. You may even want two copies, one for yourself (or someone you care about) and one for the doctor who is treating the asthma with steroids and bronchodilators. We're offering a special 15% for the entire month of May to coincide with National Asthma Awareness Month. The discount code is CURE15. Just put CURE15 into the discount code box when you check out.

Not everyone is a candidate for this this treatment, but the information may help your health professional better understand other options for hard-to-treat asthma, especially during Asthma Awareness Month. The book explains the protocol as well as the pros and cons of azithromycin.

Share your own asthma story below.

 

 

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23 Comments

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An albuterol sulfate inhaler gave me some relief.

Thank you for writing your personal story! I have been on Asmanex for many years now having gone from exercise induced asthma to full blown asthma, although always mild. I don't always recognize symptoms because they are pretty mild. I would notice some wheezing and shortness of breath in climbing stairs, which I don't have to do very often.

However, I just recently caught a cold which quickly progressed into a sinus infection and upper respiratory infection. I went to MedExpress as it was the weekend and was prescribed my first ever Z-pak (arithromycin). I was shocked at how fast it worked! I was feeling better by the next afternoon and playing golf the day after that! When I finished the antibiotic, I went back to my old way of feeling, not sick or really asthmatic but not as good as when I took the Z-pak. Seeing your article reminded me that perhaps I need to look into this idea of taking an extended dose of it. Thanks again and I did buy one for my doctor as well.

This article is so interesting for me personally, since I have been having similar symptoms with a cough for a few years. It got to the point where I couldn't breathe and had to take prednisone and antibiotics for nearly two weeks during the winter of 2013-14.

Now I am no longer taking antibiotics but every once in a while I do have a tightness in my chest and take a steroid inhaler for a few days which eases the tightness. I also take antihistamines because the cough seems to take place after a back-drip from the nose. I am also taking a second year of allergy injections.

I wonder now after reading this article whether I should take the 3 month course of az. antibiotic. I will think about this and talk to my pulmonologist at Duke Asthma and Allergy clinic when I see him again. Maybe I should get that book for him and for myself.

Thanks, but shouldn't you remind about also taking live culture yogurt or pro biotic caps or both?

thanks

R

Joe, just like you I've had a reoccurring cough that within 2 days would cause such pain in my chest muscles I feared breathing. Once while on a vacation in Ireland it started. After several days of suffering I resorted to my wife's doxycycline she takes for rosacia. (She used to take daily rosacia for many years until she quit eating tomatoes and it went away!) Within 2 days I was much better but had to beg a "chemist" to sell me enough to finish a 10 day cycle.

Later I did an internet search and found this: "Walking pneumonia is usually caused by the atypical bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia (BOOP). BOOP is caused by inflammation of the small airways of the lungs. It is also known as cryptogenic organizing pneumonitis (COP).
Bronchial pneumonia affects the lungs in patches around the tubes (bronchi or bronchioles).... Physical examination by a health care provider may reveal fever or sometimes low body temperature (Mine always low), an increased respiratory rate, low blood pressure, a high heart rate, or a low oxygen saturation"

Exactly what I had!

""Atypical" bacteria which cause pneumonia include Chlamydophila pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and Legionella pneumophila....

In North America, where the "atypical" forms of community-acquired pneumonia are becoming more common, macrolides (such as azithromycin), and doxycycline have displaced amoxicillin as first-line outpatient treatment for community-acquired pneumonia...."

And encouragingly "Pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma, for instance, is associated with little mortality."

Now I carry a 10 day supply doxycycline everywhere. However, my first defense at signs of scratchy throat or cough is a mucinex type med(guaifenesen) and claritin. Both in the generic forms. This often stops the progression into the deep cough and need for doxycycline. Doxycycline is cheap, usually around $7 but you must stay out of the sun.

After several years in my 50's of bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis that were increasingly quickly debilitating this treatment has kept me pretty healthy for the last several years. It also helps that I no longer volunteer in the church nursery!

This has been a very threatening experience for me and it reminds me of the stomach ulcer fiasco when so easily treatable.

Joe, you say:
"She considered the possibility that I might have a mycobacterial lung infection or even C. pneumoniae (a la Dr. Hahn)."

Why didn't she do a culture (and related sensitivity)?

It seems that one of our medical profession's lapses is guessing and not verifying. I was treated for strep twice in one summer when a culture was finally done with the third occurrence, and it was staph--not strep. Lesson learned. The doctor's assumption is not always the correct one. Verify.

I am glad you found the right treatment to allow you the quality of life you now enjoy.

Joe Graedon's experience with antibiotic controlled asthma is amazing. As I was reading, I kept wondering just how long he had to take the azithromycin to keep the asthma controlled. Unless I missed it, the article didn't say how long. So, how long did he have to take azithromycin for the asthma to stay in remission or "cured?"

Thank you!

I had Asthma as a child and took dust shots until I was 13 years old. It then went away and I did not have problems until I was in my forties. I have taken one Allegra Allergy each day for years I also use Fluticasone each morning and Flovent two times a day. This seems to work well for me. I have Sinusitis one or two times a year. I get an antibiotic at the onset. I found wheezing will start if the antibiotic is not started.

This information on asthma interested me greatly. I am 84 years old and had a long history of lung problems while growing up. Unfortunately, medical attention was not available and old-fashioned remedies were applied: mustard plaster, Vicks, etc. As I grew older, my allergies became worse and I too was under care by an allergist who performed the testing of those things that caused the asthma episodes. My current physician treats me with Advair when severe asthma occurs but for three days prescribed a Z-pack prior to regularly using the Advair and inhaler. It was the Z-pack that broke into the congestion and alleviated the wheezing and the continued dosage (30 days) of Advair corrected the condition permanently. After recovery of the asthma attack, I discontinued all medication. Worked for me and taking the antibiotic prior to using the Advair was a sure cure.

Wowwww! What a medical leap forward! And thanks Mr G for the personal input.

A friend of mine forwarded this article to me and after reading it all I could think is "this is me". I smoked for 30 years and quit 10 years ago. I was told my wheezing and lack of being able to breath was due to asthma and chronic bronchitis that developed after I quite smoking. Like you I was on three different types of inhalers that didn't help. Once after a bout of bronchitis and taking antibiotics, my lungs cleared for the first time in years, but soon after my wheezing was back. So disappointed.

I am an active individual, I ride horses 4 times a week and my lack of being able to breath has affected my ability to ride. Sometimes just walking in the barn is difficult. I've been tested for all types of allergies and I have none. I too can walk up a flight of stairs and can't breath by the time I get to the top. I feel like I'm a 100 years old sometimes.

I'm purchasing the book to learn more. Thank you for sharing.

WOW. My 22 year old daughter has the same symptoms every winter that you have had, Joe. I am so looking forward to arming myself with this knowledge to help her next time she starts of round of this hacking-coughing-wheezing "You sound TERRIBLE" hokey pokey. Can't wait to share it with her doctor as well (okay, maybe SHE will do the sharing vs her old Mother doing it, as she IS 22 now, but still...SO helpful to have a new approach).

CHL

Joe's story - of several years of episodic cough and wheeze that escalated to become chronic and disabling - is in my experience fairly typical for many adults who end up with a diagnosis of chronic asthma. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I performed retrospective medical chart reviews on 450 patients with (i) acute respiratory illneses, (ii) new-onset or (iii) established asthma, that became the basis for some of my first publications in this area.

Looking back years into the medical records showed that many of those with new-onset asthma or established asthma had previously been seen over years or decades with what their doctors called "acute asthmatic bronchitis (AAB)" which is a description for discrete episodes of asthma-like symptoms that do not persist. That sounds something like what Joe Graedon describes. Do all people who experience one or more episodes of AAB go on to develop chronic asthma? Not at all. Many episodes of uncomplicated AAB resolve on their own but may benefit from albuterol (a bronchodilator) to control the wheezing. One must simply wait and see. From my perspective, though, the take home message for someone who has had an episode of AAB is: Be vigilant for the development of chronic persistent symptoms and seek medical attention if that happens (preferably with a copy of my book in hand to share with your prescriber).

Would antibiotic treatment of all episodes of AAB decrease the risk of getting asthma later? Could be. No one knows. That is another reason I wrote that book: To encourage the people who fund asthma research to ask and answer that and related questions.

This is very interesting. I'll get the book for my son. We both have asthma, but he is prone to pneumonia and has to take zithromax for it.

This hopefully will develop into a solution for some whose life has turned into shut-in status, particularly those downwind from pollution emitting smokestacks, such as in Midlothian, Texas.

As many asthmatic attacks prompt ambulance rides code three to the emergency rooms in the middle of the night, this is the root cause of part of our massive and unsustainable macro healthcare cost burden.

If only 5% of those burdened with asthma gain relief from this innovation, it will have a major benefit to our society.

I occasionally have the exact same symptoms as Joe. For me, Zinc tablets to boost the immune system (not zinc lozenges) work just great. I take 2 or 3 tablets a day (50mg each tablet) for about 3 days and then 1 tablet a day for about a week and this takes care of the problem for about 6 months. Apparently Vitamin D also helps boost immunity. No expensive antibiotics needed.

Mike,

I understood Joe to say that he had taken the antibiotic one week out of the month for three months.

Mr Graedon, thank you for sharing your asthma story. I'm going to keep my comment very short.

At age 31 I got chronic asthma after a nasty lung infection from a cold. I've had chronic asthma everyday for 30 years.

Over the years I have spent well over a million dollars on medical bills to treat my asthma. I have been to many pulmonary clinics around the country including National Jewish Lung Clinic in Denver.

I happened to turn the radio on a few months back and heard your interview with Dr Hahn. I then purchased two of Dr Hahn's books "A Cure for Asthma?" I also read all of Jim's website (asthma story.com) and everything I could find about chlamydia and
mycoplasma pneumoniae.

I visited two local doctors and had no luck getting azithromycin prescribed for 12 weeks. I had to take another route and now have enough azithromycin for 12-24 weeks. I'm a week into the 12 week protocol. I'm also eating many types of homemade fermented foods and resistance starch to try and keep as much good bacteria in the intestines as possible. I will give an update down the road.

To CWS and other asthma sufferers: Do you notice that your symptoms are any less severe in the summer? If so it may be that Vitamin D, more exposure to sun in winter, and zinc supplement (not just lozenges which don't have enough zinc to do any good). All of the things mentioned above will boost your immune system. Skeptical about this? Well think about this ------
In summer fewer people report being sick, and many people who are already sick say they feel better in summer. Very few people catch colds in summer. Try this, don't be so stubborn that you don't give this a thought. Many people thought the soap in bed was crazy, but it seems to work pretty well.

Joe,
Uncharacteristically, you fail to mention if you had tried to check and correct your vit D levels- Since this comes on in the winter- as do most colds- it might be an indication of seasonal D deficiency, hence lowering your immune system. Also- did you try other immune enhancing and anti-inflammatory protocols as many of your guests have promoted? Like Turmeric (the absorbable kind - Meriva) ? Olive leaf extract? etc. Very strange that you promote only anti-biotic usage, with no mention of the possible side effects of long term use. One of which is C.diff?
Love your show.

Replying to Jean,
My asthma symptoms are very bad everyday in all four seasons. My vitamin D level in the winter is 50 ng/ml. I take no supplements except 300mg of magnesium glycinate.
After reading the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price, I make my own fermented cod liver oil and raw high vitamin butter oil from cows eating 100% grass (30-40 different kinds of grass).

These two products are loaded with vitamins and fatty acids including vitamin D and lots of vitamin K2. 100% of my food comes from a local farm that uses zero chemicals. I eat nothing from the grocery store--meat, fruit, and vegetables are irradiated which kills vitamins. Anyway, I only eat 100% grassfed meats, berries, vegetables, duck eggs, raw cheese, organ meats, all from the farm. Since I changed to this way of eating I went from 8 colds a year to no colds in the last 4 years.

So, this way of eating fixed everything but the asthma. I have tried everything, including moving 5 times. I went to a million doctors (huge waste of time and money). I turned the bedroom into a class 100 clean room--that caused a divorce. I've been tested for allergies by 5 different doctors--nothing found. I tried luguls iodine which they claim will get
through cell biofilms--no luck.

Looking at my diet, I'm getting 20 times more natural vitamins and minerals than the average american. I lost 30 years of my life to asthma and am very lucky to still be alive. Six months before I developed asthma my lung function tests for an emergency response team was way above the average, I could jog up mountains.

Anyway, I have to give azithromycin a shot and see how it goes.
Jean, thanks for your suggestion about zinc and vitamin D. I'm getting lots of zinc from 100% grassfed lamb and lamb liver.

To CWS. Thank you so much for replying to my suggestions. I learned a lot from what you said, ---a lot. Thank you.

From reading all that you said I think you are very conscientious about health matters. The only thing I can suggest to you now is that it still wouldn't hurt to at least try a zinc supplement, maybe just one tablet every other day. Very sorry you have such bad asthma. Mine is not anywhere as severe as yours -------or Joe's either.

I hope you feel better sometime before too long. Don't give up any of your good diet. Your body is trying very hard to heal itself. Maybe there is so much damage to your lungs it is taking a long time to heal what was damaged years ago.

Best wishes,
Jean

Just love these reads. Is citrucell fiber bad for Ca ox renal stones. Page sugar formula has calcium di basic in it. Taking k citrate and mag citrate to dissolve. Also lemon juice squeezed in h 20. Wheat gluten fir stones? Long Hx constipation and new renal lithiasis. ( stones)

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