“It’s just asthma.”

Pet peeve: “It’s just asthma.”

Even though it’s a thing I say sometimes (usually to reassure people hovering over me in hopes it’ll get them to stop hovering and/or to reassure people giving me the stink eye that my very loud and scary-sounding cough isn’t contagious), I hate the sentiment when it comes from nonasthmatics. Particularly in the form of horizontal ableism from other chronic illness folk and/or from people in positions of authority.

Because the unspoken other half to that statement is typically, “… it’s not like you have a real chronic illness.”

And internalizing that sentiment has led me to do some very foolish things, like finish an exam before I went to the ER, or like finishing a very strenuous martial arts test with my lung function in the red, like not getting a flu shot when offered (long story), or like staying home from the ER because even though my PF was bottoming out at 180 when my PB is 680, it was “just asthma” and it wasn’t like it could kill me (uh, yeah, it could. Don’t do that, by the way. It’s a bad idea).

I am chronically ill. Asthma is a real chronic illness. And anyone who disagrees with me on that can trade my body for theirs so they can recover from the pulled muscles and bruised sternum and burst blood vessels I gave myself in a flare-up last week for me.

That is all.

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5 thoughts on ““It’s just asthma.”

  1. alexforshaw says:

    It’s the usual story about invisible illnesses/disabilities: too many able people assume that if you don’t show physical signs such as missing limbs then it’s somehow not a “real” disability.

    A PF of 180 is very low. It’s a wonder you didn’t pass out. (My wife who has emphysema averages about 200 on a good day which is half what a healthy woman of her age and height would expect – she can’t walk a quarter mile without stopping to catch her breath. On a bad day she can’t even use the PF meter.)

    • ischemgeek says:

      Not just able people – one of my issues w/ identifying as chronically ill in the first place was horizontal ableism from those with other chronic illnesses (ppl w/ MS or what have you talking snidely about asthmatics and saying shit like “talk to me when you have a real chronic illness” b/c they think all asthma is mild intermittent blue-puffer-cure variety).

      Annndyeah. Once upon a time, my adult personal best PF was in the high-200s (what I call the Year of the Cough). Now it’s in the high 600s. Adequate asthma treatment rocks my socks (andyeah fuck the doc who said there was no reason the lowest adult dose of Flovent shouldn’t be controlling my symptoms and I was just non-compliant).

      Anyway, my docs tell me I’m stuck in the dead land where I’m too severe to be called “moderate” (in terms of medication load to keep my symptoms controlled) but not nearly severe enough to be called “severe” (I’m too well-controlled – one of the criteria in my country for severe asthma is that you are unable to reach “well controlled” status without daily steroids if at all and/or make more than a certain number of ER trips a year, where I haven’t made any in nearly three years). Apparently, people like me are common among athletic young women and girls w/ asthma, so much so that they’re thinking of creating a new severity category for the people who aren’t bad enough to call severe but for whom moderate would lead to underestimated severity when dealing with new docs.

      As for PF: I’ve got accessory muscle strength like whoa because I was a severe asthmatic for most of my childhood – I was awake, happy and chatty more than a few times as a kid with a PF too low to register since I was a very poor perceiver. There was a few times I had silent chest and the ER docs didn’t believe my mother that I was that sick because I was too perky. One time, I was even cyanotic, and they drew blood to check for anaemia because they didn’t believe it was my asthma since I wasn’t showing emotional signs of respiratory distress. Probably a few times I ended up on BiPAP or intubated as a kid could’ve been avoided if they’d listened to mum that I had silent chest right off the get-go. The only obvious sign I’d give that a flareup was serious before I crashed as a kid is that I’d want to go to bed much earlier than normal (I’m talking 5-6PM when my normal bed-time was 8 or 9) because breathing took so much energy that I was exhausted by then.

      (erryeah, when I say I was a sick kid, I mean it. But it’s just asthma, right? Just a kid’s disease. Not like it’s serious or anything. */sarcasm*)

      Which actually is the other reason it’s really important for me to stay well-controlled (aside from the whole “avoiding permanent lung damage” thing, which should be reason enough on its own): When I become uncontrolled, I rapidly adapt and become unable to assess my breathing (I think it has something to do with my autism and general body unawareness). Yey for disability cooties interacting?

  2. I believe asthma is a real chronic illness! I have very mild asthma that was brought on somehow by my allergies and frequent bronchitis. I think it would be terrifying to have more severe asthma. Mine just causes me to cough a lot. Anyone who thinks asthma isn’t a chronic illness, probably just knows nothing about it except things they’ve seen in movies and TV.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Odd thing to consider mentioning to your doctor: asthmatics pre-diagnosis and those with cough-variant asthma (like yours truly) are often misdiagnosed with “bronchitis” when they’re actually having asthma flare-ups. It could be that your asthma wasn’t brought on by frequent bronchitis but in fact was your bronchitis. It’s very hard for doctors to tell the difference between bronchitis with a dry cough and a cold or flu triggered asthma flare. If your asthma just makes you cough a lot, it’s possible you have cough-variant asthma, which would increase your chance of misdiagnosis with bronchitis.

      It’s a thought – I only mention it because it happened to me (even though I was already diagnosed with asthma!) and was part of why my Year Of The Cough happened – an influenza-induced serious asthma flare-up was allowed to snowball for too long because none of the docs I saw recognized it for what it was. By the time they did, I needed steroids, but they didn’t want to give steroids to an at-the-time mild asthmatic… because, soooo instead I just ended up with a permanent worsening of my asthma, a year of severe asthma and intermittent disability, and probably some lung damage for my troubles (which why I get annoyed when docs are afraid to prescribe steroids when they’re needed for asthma flare-ups).

      Also: Yes, totally agree with you that the blue-puffer-cure version of asthma portrayed on TV and movies probably has a lot to do with why most people don’t consider asthma a real chronic illness.

      • Interesting! I really did have bronchitis for a LOOOOONG time the first time, and it would not go away. So maybe it really was asthma, or at least bronchitis caused by asthma instead of the other way around! For some reason the doctors didn’t want to give me antibiotics at all, and just gave me codeine cough syrup, which barely helped. I have my annual physical exam next week, and I will remember to mention what you said about asthma!

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