The first time I became aware that I was breathing, I was seven years old, trailing my big brother and his friends through the ravine near our house. It happened in a flash. One second, I was stepping on rocks, trying with all my might to avoid a sneaker soaker and the next, I couldn’t catch my breath.

I felt like a balloon, losing air. While I itched and puffed, my face blowing up all over, I started sweating and breathing fast. What was this? Was I dying?

Back then, there were no cell phones, and even if there was a pay phone hiding in the woods, we wouldn’t have had a dime to use it. We were on our own, lost inside an adventure—and sudden ragged breathing was a serious complication.

I had seen kids with runny noses and red eyes, who carried around little puffer sticks as life insurance but I didn’t know what asthma was. Breathing was something that like most kids, I’d always taken for granted.

A hundred pin pricks later, I learned that I’m highly allergic to all kinds of plants and foods. As it turns out, the menu of foods I can’t eat is longer than the one I can. Believe it or not, ordering in a restaurant now takes me longer than Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

And yet, there’s always been this nagging doubt in the back of my mind. Why is it that every year, as summer trips into fall, that raggedy breathing seems to return? Is it possible that I’ve got breathing problems like asthma, too? What if one day, I have an attack and my EpiPen won’t save me?

Allergies vs Asthma: Do You Know Why You Can't Breathe?

I’ve been checked out by my doctor, and thankfully, my allergies, seasonal and food, are not complicated by asthma. And according to a 30-second asthma test I found online, my doctor is right. First off, I don’t need an inhaler to control the symptoms because they disappear with antihistamines. Unlike asthma sufferers, I don’t cough or wheeze and there’s no tightening in my chest. Also, unlike a food allergy or panic attack, asthma can prevent you from being able to catch your breath during exercise or even when you’re asleep—interruptions I have thankfully never experienced.

If I did have asthma, though, the test would be my touchstone because there are only five simple questions that can save your life many times over, and that can help you identify the symptoms of asthma. Here they are:

  1. Do you use your fast-acting reliever (rescue medication) inhaler 4 or more times a week?
  2. Do you cough, wheeze or have a tight chest because of your asthma?
  3. Do coughing, wheezing or chest tightness wake you at night?
  4. Do you stop exercising because of your asthma?
  5. Do you ever miss work, school, or social activities because of your asthma?

If you have asthma (or even if you think you might), this test should be required reading because let’s face it, breathing is an activity no one can afford to be confused about. By taking a few seconds to answer these questions every season, you’ll give yourself real peace of mind. First, you’ll be alerted to any changes in your condition right away, and then you’ll have a quick report to show your doctor. The fact is, no matter what you may think, only a health care professional can tell whether or not you’ve got asthma and if so, whether it’s properly controlled.

Is it Allergies or Asthma? Why Can't You Breathe?

Think you’ve got asthma? Know you’ve got asthma? Worried it’ll stop you from following your dreams or that it will worsen as you age?

Don’t let it. Take the 30-second test at, share your results with your loved ones, and encourage them to do the same. At the very least, you’ll breathe easy and that’s something we all deserve to enjoy—every day, every year, for the rest of our lives.

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About the author

Randi Chapnik Myers

Randi Chapnik Myers is Co-Founder and Content Editor of, the only lifestyle site by women 35+ for women 35+. A journalist, blogger, editor and marketer, she specializes in custom content creation for publications, companies, brands and authors at Proud to call herself a social media addict, Randi is never far from a screen—even when she's out hunting for designer bargains.

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