"Beating Asthma," Stephen Apaliski, MD

Pros: Clear guidelines to help you figure out how to help yourself
Cons: One or two details I was uncertain of or wanted more info on
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book provided courtesy of the publisher
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Dr. Stephen Apaliski’s Beating Asthma: Seven Simple Principles is designed to help you take control of your asthma problems (or, as Apaliski likes to say, take “ownership” of them). He firmly believes that unless you build a strong collaborative relationship with your doctor—preferably a specialist—and do everything you can to control this chronic disease, you’re likely to end up at its mercy rather than in control of it. Part of the problem is that when you have asthma, your lung function can be dropping before you even notice it. By the time you experience wheezing, coughing, and tightness of breath, you’re well beyond the point where you could (potentially) have easily staved off the acute problems. Since asthma can be deadly, this is a real problem. Proper maintenance care can result in far fewer ER visits, not to mention lower overall health care costs and better quality of life.

Part of the reason I was interested in reviewing this book is my own recent asthma history. I was diagnosed with asthma more than 15 years ago, and it was always mild and well-controlled. I perhaps needed my inhaler a couple weeks out of the year. I got asthma shots way-back-when, which helped. I avoided perfumes, smoke, etc. A couple of times my primary care physician attempted to put me on a maintenance medication, but both times I had intolerable side effects, so each one gave up on that idea. Recently, home repairs resulted in exposure to various substances. Paint fumes, drywall dust, new carpet fumes… suddenly my asthma started acting up a whole lot. But since it had been controlled for so long, I had no idea whether or not it was at a point that required making an appointment with an allergist.

Thankfully, Dr. Apaliski provides hard-and-fast guidelines (the “rules of two”, four questions that include such easy metrics as whether you need your rescue inhaler more than twice a week). Now I know for sure that my asthma has crossed over into the area where it’s considered uncontrolled rather than controlled, and that it’s time for me to make that appointment and discuss how to get my asthma back under control.

I have a better idea of what medication and treatment options there are, and that the two meds I couldn’t tolerate are hardly the only possibilities. I know that I need to work with my allergist to create an “action plan” so that I know exactly when to get in touch with him, and what to do, should my asthma worsen again. Because I’m aware of these things, I’ll know what to ask about while I’m seeing my doctor. Because Apaliski also goes into some of the ways in which a good collaborative relationship between doctor and patient should work, I better know how to evaluate whether the allergist will be able to help me in the long run.

One detail I ran into ended up confusing me a little. The book mentions that aspirin/NSAIDs can cause problems for some people with asthma, and that acetaminophen is a safer alternative. However, I’ve also seen multiple recent articles elsewhere saying that there’s a strong link that’s been found between acetaminophen and asthma. Since this book is quite recent, I wish it had addressed whether or not this recent information. (Now I have no idea which painkiller it’s okay to take when I get my asthma-caused headaches!)

The “seven principles” mentioned in the subtitle make a useful structure for the layout of the book, but I found the underlying information itself was more valuable to me as a reader, which is why I haven’t explicitly gone into them here. This is a very helpful book for anyone with asthma—someone who’s first trying to understand their own or their child’s illness, or someone who’s trying to get their asthma under control. It’s also valuable for someone who really isn’t sure how bad their asthma is and wants to know whether they should worry and what steps to take next. If you’re one of the many asthmatics who has at least one good friend or family member who insists that their smoking or use of heavy perfumes, etc. couldn’t possibly be a problem, or that it’s all in your head, it’s also handy for reassuring you that no, really, this is a chronic, physical ailment, and your sensitivities are real and potentially dangerous. This can give you the confidence you need to take proper care of yourself.

If you have asthma and feel that you could stand to learn more about it, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Apaliski’s Beating Asthma.

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