Broadway Star Kristin Chenoweth on Her Asthma

in Asthma, Features
Published: May 28, 2014
Kristin Chenoweth

We know Kristin Chenoweth as a Broadway star and series regular on TV’s Glee, but who would have thought the actress and singer with such a big, beautiful voice would have asthma?

Chenoweth also recently added advocacy to her CV, joining the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s “Know Your Count” campaign to promote asthma awareness and to remind those with asthma of the importance of keeping track of the doses in a rescue inhaler.

Allergic Living Editor Gwen Smith caught up with the busy New Yorker to learn about how her life has changed with an asthma diagnosis.

Gwen Smith: We know you for your big voice – so it came as a bit of a shocker to learn you had asthma. Does this often surprise people?

Kristin Chenoweth: It sure does! As a performer, suffering from asthma is certainly not ideal, since being able to breathe properly plays such a huge role in singing.

I hadn’t publicly discussed my asthma diagnosis with anyone until I was approached by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Teva Respiratory to share my story through the “Know Your Count asthma awareness campaign. I’m thrilled to be lending my voice to such an important cause.

GS: You aren’t someone who had asthma as a child. Tell us about when the symptoms started.

KC: I can pinpoint my first symptoms of asthma to around the time of 9/11 [she lives in NYC]. During, and in the days following the tragedy, I found myself unable to catch my breath and I was experiencing tightness in my chest. At first, I assumed these symptoms were a result of the stress and anxiety from the recent events and didn’t give them much more thought.

GS: A lot of people have symptoms but don’t realize they have “adult-onset asthma”. How did you figure this out?

KC: I actually let my symptoms go for a few years before I ended up seeing a doctor. It was around 2007 when I was filming the show Pushing Daisies that my symptoms took a turn for the worse and I really felt like something was wrong.

I remember going to Oklahoma to visit my family during a break from the show and my parents pointed out how sick I had become and reminded me that my symptoms had been ongoing for years at that point. They urged me to see a doctor in the area, which is where I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma.

Needless to say, I was shocked. I always thought asthma was something you were diagnosed with as a child. After I got over my initial shock, I was grateful to finally know what was causing my symptoms.

GS: When you have asthma, you’re supposed to always carry a rescue bronchodilator. Has that inhaler become your constant companion?

KC: Absolutely! When I was diagnosed with asthma, my doctor told me I would need to carry a rescue inhaler with me at all times. Since being diagnosed, I quickly learned that asthma can be extremely unpredictable, which is why it is so important to always be prepared.

What I love about my inhaler is that it now has a dose counter on it, which tracks how much medication I have left. When I was first diagnosed, my rescue inhaler did not have a dose counter and there were countless times (more than I care to admit) that I reached for my medication and it was empty – a very scary situation to be in!

With my busy schedule, it’s not always easy to keep track of my asthma medication on top of everything else. Now, whether I’m on stage performing or traveling between shows, I can keep track of my remaining doses and feel confident in knowing I have enough medication on-hand when I need it most.

GS: Asthma attacks can be really scary. Have you had incidents with asthma while on stage?

KC: Fortunately, I’ve been able to get through many performances without my asthma symptoms getting in the way. However, there was one occasion where I experienced an asthma attack during a performance. In 2012 while appearing in the Broadway musical, Promises, Promises, I felt an attack coming on during one of my scenes. I immediately started to panic, which made my symptoms worse.

I did my best to remain calm until I found an opportunity to sneak off stage to my dressing room where I used my rescue inhaler. It was a very scary experience, but luckily, I had my medication close by and was able to continue on with my performance. 

Next: Breathless during Wicked; Why the campaign