Machelle Lewis describes her early years as “outdoorsy” and “athletic.” Today, Lewis works as a health navigator for BlueCare Tennessee. She grew up in Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley and loved the trees and plants that make the area beautiful. But she vividly remembers symptoms she’d experience, especially when seasons changed.
“I loved being outside. I loved the smell of honeysuckle and of course, we’d pick them,” Machelle says. “But then I’d be raspy and coughing and sometimes even lose my voice.”
She also played basketball for her school and remembers frequently getting winded and having to retire to the bench.
Reaching a turning point
Treating symptoms with over-the-counter medications was something Machelle was used to doing as a child and teen. And she kept right on doing that into her adult years.
Then two things happened that changed how she viewed her symptoms and her health.
One of her children got severely winded while playing sports, just as Machelle had. Tests showed her child had asthma. Then while working out, Machelle began having trouble breathing.
Not long after, she went to an employee health fair at BlueCross where she talked to someone from Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.
“That discussion at the health fair got my attention,” she says.
A visit to the Cameron Hill clinic followed, and a nurse urged Machelle to get tested, even calling the allergy practice to get Machelle’s process started. The results? Finally, a clear understanding of her allergies to pets and pollen, and an asthma diagnosis.
Navigating her own course
For her allergies, Machelle began receiving immunotherapy shots at the Cameron Hill clinic, and her doctor prescribed an inhaler for when she had trouble breathing. When she later experienced an extended bout of coughing, she was prescribed a nebulizer for breathing treatments.
Machelle says she’s taken other steps to control what triggers her allergies and asthma: She pays attention to pollen counts and plans her day accordingly. She sees her doctors regularly, both a PCP and her allergist. Machelle also gets vitamin shots to help her body better absorb her medication.
As she guides BlueCare members to get the right care and screenings, she wishes her parents had gotten a similar call that could have guided her to an earlier diagnosis.
Her advice to others who suffer from similar symptoms: Don’t put off getting tested.
“The testing wasn’t hard like I’d imagined,” Machelle says. “And the treatment plan I’m on makes such a difference.”
Thoughts from a physician
“No matter how long you or a family member have had symptoms, getting a diagnosis and treatment is critical,” says Dr. Felicia Baxter, a medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Dr. Baxter explains that asthma is a combination of airway constriction and inflammation with mucus production. And current treatment of asthma is layered with inhalers to relax the muscles, anti-inflammatory and preventive medication to treat other pathways that have inflammation.
“Continual asthma attacks over time can lead to lung damage,” Dr. Baxter says.
When talking with your health care provider, you should mention:
- Hacking, dry cough that lasts for weeks
- Wheezing that can be heard
- Environmental or food allergies
- Mucous that continues long after a cold or allergy attack
- Severe snoring in toddlers or children
- A child’s previous diagnosis of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Read more about asthma on WellTuned
- Asthma guide: Causes, triggers & how COVID-19 factors in
- Real story: keeping pace with asthma
- Real story: living outside with an asthma diagnosis
- Travel Checklist: Asthma & COPD
- 7 Exercises for Asthma Sufferers
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.