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Tony Hale has struggled with asthma since he was a child, and knows well how debilitating the disease can be. That's why the Arrested Development actor is ready to talk about the respiratory condition in the hopes of helping others.
"It can be a very, very scary anxious thing, asthma. It feels like you're breathing through a straw," Hale, 49, tells PEOPLE from his home in Los Angeles. "I think my inhaler was kind of like my blankie, honestly. It's funny, I can't really remember a time without it."
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, asthma causes the airways in the lungs to become inflamed and constricted with mucus, making breathing difficult. Asthma patients may experience symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, which can lead to life-threatening complications.
"Asthma was kind of always on the forefront of my mind and it kept me from doing a lot of things," Hale says. "Thankfully I had the support of my family and they were always on top of it, but you live in this uncertain place of not knowing when an episode was going to come on. It did cause a lot of anxiety."
An asthma attack can begin for a variety of reasons, such as physical activity or being exposed to tobacco smoke, mold, dust mites and outdoor air pollution. Hale says his asthma attacks have been triggered in many ways, such as a neighbor doing yard work.
Leisa Cole Tony Hale
"It's changed over time, but when I was a kid it was a lot more frequent," he recalls. "Someone could be mowing the grass next door and I'd have an episode. I could be feeling anxious about something, and then that might trigger it. I could go over to somebody's house, and they could have a cat or a dog that I was allergic to, and that could trigger it."
"If something like an allergen triggered an episode during the day, it made it worse at night," Hale says. "Even being in P.E. could trigger it. You never knew where it was coming from and that's why this inhaler became kind of my lifeline."
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 25 million Americans have asthma and 10 people in the United States die from the disease each day. Last year, Broadway star Laurel Griggs died of an asthma attack at 13 years old.
Eosinophilic asthma, a subtype of the condition, is often severe for patients. An eosinophil is a disease-fighting white blood cell, and an elevated number of eosinophils in the blood can raise future risk and severity of asthma attacks.
Hale recently partnered with the drug company AstraZeneca to promote the company's e-asthma website, where asthma patients can find a location to get a free blood test to determine if they have the subtype. Doing so can help in their treatment plan.
"To be able to have the opportunity to educate others how they can control and take care of their own asthma, especially with the uncertainty that's going on now, it's really exciting to be able to do that," Hale says.
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"I thought I knew everything there was to know about asthma because I've had it my whole life, but I learned that it's not this one size fits all disease," he continues.
Hale hopes that by sharing his asthma story, he can bring some comfort to some of the many people out there with the condition.
"It's a much broader picture than what people think of it as. Honestly, I always appreciated when somebody knew somebody that had asthma, where they had an understanding of what it's like," he says. "When you're having an episode it's scary, you feel like your life source is being taken away from you. So when somebody understands, you're just so grateful."