By Brian Yu, Senior writer, 16, Walnut HS
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Since his asthma is improving, Brian is looking forward to joining the marching band in college.

I have asthma, a disease that makes it hard to breathe when I get allergies, the air is smoggy or it’s cold. There are also times when it’s hard to breathe just because. But I don’t let it stop me from doing the things I like to do, like playing the trumpet and tae kwon do.

I was born with weak lungs, meaning that my lungs aren’t as efficient at pumping oxygen as other people’s lungs, and I’m also allergic to a lot of stuff. Breathing in dust, cigarette smoke, pollen, grass or animal hair can trigger an asthma attack. When I get an attack, my lungs tighten and it feels like someone is choking me. Usually I wheeze and gasp for air until my lungs start functioning normally, which usually takes half an hour. I used to live with my aunts and uncles and they had dogs. I’d get pretty bad attacks at least three times a week because of all the animal hair, plus dust and pollen in the air.

On days when there is ash from wildfires or the air quality is bad, my asthma gets worse. I wish the air could be cleaner, both for me and for my asthmatic friends. I have one friend who has horrible coughing fits when it’s smoggy. On days when the air is nicer, I don’t have to worry about my asthma as much.

Sprinting is another trigger for an asthma attack, so I have to watch out when I exercise. To pass PE in middle school we had to run 100 miles by the end of the year. Usually I’d walk but whenever I went all out I’d feel a sharp stabbing sensation and my lungs would tighten. My teacher didn’t know that I had asthma, so he just assumed I was lazy.

I was afraid I would be teased

Illustration by Amy Fan, 17, Temple City HS

In elementary school I was the only kid who had asthma. Because the other kids were really athletic (as in they could knock that tether ball really, really hard and run really fast) I’d be the last kid picked. I didn’t want to completely fit the nerd stereotype so I hid my inhaler in my backpack. In seventh grade, the air was really bad for some reason (possibly the forest fires), so I began using my inhaler almost every other day. I was surprised when the other kids didn’t tease me about it. It showed me that my friends didn’t care.

There are times when my asthma can be scary. I’ve been hospitalized three times. In seventh grade I accidentally stepped on a cigarette butt and was choking from the smell. I was wheezing so heavily my parents decided I needed to go to the hospital. I was afraid of hospitals and needles and I just wanted to go to bed. But my parents said, “we’re going” and drove me to the hospital. The doctors told me that had I stayed home and fallen asleep, sometime in the night I would have stopped breathing. “This could actually kill me,” I thought. I was thankful though that I didn’t have other diseases that were far worse than asthma.

I’m proud of myself too because in spite of having asthma, I am a red black belt (one below a black belt) and play the trumpet. I did tae kwon do until I was 14. I participate in marching band and was on the golf team for two years. The times I can find my inhaler I use it before working out. It’s supposed to prevent an attack, although it doesn’t always work. The problem is, I don’t keep good track of where my inhaler is.

The second day of band camp my freshman year, it was cold. Cold weather shrinks your lungs, making it hard to breathe. I had woken up late that day and was running late and it didn’t cross my mind to grab my inhaler on the way out. We were marching on the field when my vision started to go blurry from lack of oxygen. I had to lie down and my dad picked me up and took me home. I dragged out a nebulizer, a machine the size of a shoebox that turns the liquid medicine into a mist that you inhale. It’s more effective than an inhaler because the drugs are more powerful and the treatment takes longer, 10 to 20 minutes.

I’m still going to be active

But overall, I don’t complain about having asthma. Lots of athletes have it, like Olympic ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi and former NFL running back Jerome Bettis. That’s inspiring to me because it shows me that I can do what other people do.

As I’m getting older it’s getting better and my doctor says that I’ll grow out of it someday. Less than two years ago, I almost passed out from doing laps around the track but recently I jogged and walked for half an hour. It felt awesome, even though I did have to take a puff of the inhaler when I got home because I was wheezing a little. I just try and suck it up the best I can, and when I can’t suck it up anymore, there’s always my inhaler.

Click here to read:

How members of our teen staff tried to reduce pollution by making small changes in their daily habits.

Jerry’s interview with Jack Chang, an AQMD air quality specialist, about how he and the AQMD try to keep our air clean.


This special package is funded by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Los Angeles has some of the dirtiest air in the country, which means that many days we’re breathing in smog that is bad for our health. What is smog? Smog refers to all the pollutants in the air. There are several air pollutants, including some that are colorless (so you can’t always tell how smoggy the air is just by looking at it). Driving is a big source of air pollution. Other sources are power plants, emissions from businesses and dust. Los Angeles air has gotten cleaner, but there were still 100 days last year when the air quality was not healthy. In this special package you can learn more about smog, including what you can do to help reduce pollution.

Other stories by this writer …

Loud and clear. Being part of speech and debate taught Brian, 16, not to be afraid of public speaking. (January – February 2011)

Finding harmony. Brian, 15, used to be picked on but band gave him the confidence to make friends. (September 2010)

Time for band camp. Even though it’s hard work, Brian, 15, looks forward to learning a new show and hanging out with his friends. (Summer 2010)