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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health


Controlling Asthma

New Guidelines. New Medications. New Action Plans.

People everywhere and in every age have struggled with asthma—a chronic disease that affects the airways, or tubes, that carry air in and out of your lungs. Today, asthma is a serious, widespread problem affecting an estimated 22 million people in the United States, including about six million children. But what is asthma? Who has asthma and why? Can it be managed, prevented, or cured? Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other research organizations know more about the answers to those questions today than ever before.

Wynonna Judd

Photo courtesy of Wynonna Judd

Wynonna Breathing Easy

Millions of Wynonna Judd's fans know and love her music, her honesty, and her compassion. But far fewer know about her lifelong battle with asthma. Today, Judd effectively controls her asthma by working with her physician, understanding and taking her medications, and paying attention to her diet and exercise patterns. She has also included asthma education among her many charitable endeavors. Wynonna Judd has never let asthma hold her back from what she loves to do.

NIH MedlinePlus: You have been a leader in speaking out about asthma and how serious a condition it can be. When were you diagnosed with asthma, and what were your symptoms?

Judd: I began to have symptoms of asthma and asthma attacks at about age 8, prior to my mom and dad's divorce. I would cry and become emotional, which would make me cough; coughing led to wheezing, and the wheezing turned into asthma attacks. I had been hospitalized on several occasions during that emotional time with my family.

NIH MedlinePlus: Many people might think that you couldn't be a successful singer and have asthma, yet you are a music superstar. How do you handle your asthma day to day and during performances?

Judd: I'm on a preventative program of taking a combination of medicines and it has literally meant the difference between using my inhaler or not using my inhaler. Every now and then, since I travel so much for shows—or if I am in a high altitude/humid setting—I will take one to two puffs from the inhaler two times daily, but that's very sporadic.

I have also taken out of my diet pretty much all of my dairy intake, with the exception of yogurt with fruit in the mornings. I have also cut out red meat, and it has made a huge difference, as well. I've also noticed that when I walk, I am much healthier, and the more I take care of myself—mind, body, and spirit—the better I feel.

Prior to my performances I pray, drink water, and do everything I can to eat the right kinds of food. For instance, I am more inclined to eat vegetables, grilled chicken, and brown rice. I try not to eat processed foods. The more processed food I eat, the more asthma I have. Before going on stage, I do my breathing exercises; I breathe in deeply through my nose and say the words "In with Peace," and then I breathe out through my mouth—almost like blowing up a balloon—and say "Out with Fear."

Wynonna Judd

Photo courtesy of
Wynonna Judd

NIH MedlinePlus: What is the message you would most like to send to people with asthma?

Judd: It has been my experience that asthma is a combination of things. For me, it has to do with my emotional state, not just my physical and spiritual state. When I'm stressed, I tend to breathe much quicker and shallower; when I'm relaxed, I breathe more deeply and get more oxygen.

Taking the medication for me is not enough. I have to, as a woman in recovery, take care of myself—mind, body, and spirit—meaning that exercising, a 20-30 minute walk every day, if possible, and doing everything I can to stay as calm as I can are really key for me.

NIH MedlinePlus: As a mother, do you have any special messages for parents of children with asthma?

Judd: When I was 8 years old, and my parents were getting divorced, I didn't understand what was going on, and my world turned upside down. I think that because I had such little knowledge of what was going on, I lost all control of my environment and went into panic mode.

So, I would support parents who really check in with their children on how they're feeling, and do everything they can to create an environment that is safe, and also to communicate a lot with children about their feelings. I've noticed this with my children—Grace and Elijah. My son Elijah also has asthma, and when he has an asthma attack, I check in with him and what worries he has about what's going on. And I try to listen. I've learned how to listen and not to give advice, which has been a process, certainly.

We spend a lot of time talking and sharing our feelings, which I think has made a huge difference in Elijah's asthma. Also, when Elijah does have an asthma attack, I do everything to let him know that he has a direct role in his healing. He is a co-creator in getting past the asthma attack, and he has a right to be healthy. He also has a right to move through it with dignity. I think that a lot of times children feel helpless and hopeless about the situation. I try to remind Elijah that he will get better, and that all he has to do is do his part. I think that makes him a participant in his healing.

When he has an asthma attack, I allow him to self-care—which has been huge. I try not to be mommynurse as much as I try to be a mentor and teacher on how he can take better care of himself. This gives him a lot of satisfaction in knowing that he has the right to be better. I can notice a difference in Elijah and how he treats his asthma. He carries his portable asthma machine with him wherever he goes, and he knows he's responsible for that bag. If it gets left, then he's responsible for going back and getting it. It's made a difference in how Elijah takes care of himself, and he doesn't just look to me as his nurse to make him better. So, for me, that has made a huge difference.

So, I would support parents in allowing their children to become participants in their own healing. They need to see that they have a right to be well.

"I'm on a preventative program of taking a combination of medicines and it has literally meant the difference between using my inhaler or not using my inhaler."

NIH MedlinePlus: What does the future hold for Wynonna Judd?

Judd: I launch my first Christmas tour, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in Melbourne, Fla., and it continues through December 18 in my hometown of Ashland, Ky. Prior to that, I have several TV appearances that I'm excited about, including "The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" and my skating tribute on NBC on December 23. It's going to be a busy holiday, to say the least.

From there, I am putting the finishing touches on my new studio album that we hope to have out next May. Making this album has been such an amazing and emotional experience; I am so in love with music right now. This album is a collection of feelings I've had and songs that I've always wanted to sing, songs that have touched me in one way or another.

Fall 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 4 Pages 12 - 13