Asthma Education Series: Asthma mythbusting

Okay, so. As part of my asthma education series, I’m gonna drop a bit of asthma mythbusting on you. Here’s 9 myths and one actual fact. The statement that’s actually true might surprise you. If you have more myths you’d like fact checked, drop them in the comments – I’m perfectly happy to post a sequel post.

  1. Most kids with asthma outgrow asthma: FALSE. While some do outgrow asthma, latest evidence suggests that up to half of those who initially seem to outgrow it relapse later in life (often in middle age). As well, kids with more severe asthma are less likely to even get a remission. In all, only about 20% of asthmatic kids will outgrow asthma entirely.
  2. If someone is having an asthma attack, you should move them somewhere cold: FALSE. While some first aid information for asthma says to move someone to clear air if there’s an airborne trigger (smoke, etc), cold air is actually an asthma trigger and is likely to make the flareup worse.
  3. Asthmatics don’t need their inhalers, what they need is willpower: FALSE. Asthma is a physiological condition with measurable obstruction to airways. You cannot will yourself past being unable to breathe.
  4. Kids who always get asthma attacks in gym class are just being lazy. FALSE. Exercise is an asthma trigger in 50% of cases. Flare-ups in response to exercise are thus a sign of inadequate asthma control, not of laziness.
  5. “When I was a kid, there didn’t seem to be as much asthma.” ACTUALLY TRUE. Asthma rates are increasing. They have been increasing since at least the 1950s, especially in the developed world, even controlling for improvements in screening and diagnosis. There didn’t seem to be as much asthma when you were a kid because there actually wasn’t. That said, increase in asthma rates nowadays does not mean that those who have asthma now are somehow faking or invalid in their diagnosis, it’s simply more common now than 30, 40, or 50 years ago.
  6. If you use your medicine “too much,” you’ll build a tolerance to it and then it won’t work. FALSE. Asthma medicines are not addictive and the body does not build a tolerance to them. What can happen, however, is that a person can use their rescue (reliever) medication to cover up a worsening of their overall asthma without actually treating the underlying cause of the symptoms (inflammation) which is just getting worse and worse. Eventually, this can lead to a very serious asthma attack that medicine doesn’t work for. This is why it’s important to apply your asthma action plan and talk with your doctor if you’re having more flare-ups and symptoms than normal.
  7. If you have asthma, you can’t do well in sports. FALSE. 20% of the Canadian Olympic Team has asthma.
  8. Kids/people with asthma shouldn’t exercise. FALSE. Exercise is associated with improved asthma control.
  9. Steroids used to treat asthma will make me bulk up. FALSE. You’re thinking anabolic steroids, which are the type used by athletes in doping scandals. The steroids used to treat asthma are corticosteroids, which work in a very different manner on a very different set of pathways. Additionally, most cases of asthma are treated with very low doses of inhaled steroids, which substantially lowers the risk of side-effects.
  10. An asthmatic complaining about my perfume/smoking/cleaning products is just being dramatic. FALSE. Many asthmatics are triggered by airborne irritants, including perfumes, cigarette smoke, and cleaning products. This induces asthma symptoms that may range from merely unpleasant (chest pain and coughing) to serious and potentially life threatening (severe difficulty breathing). An asthmatic who complains to you about your scented product is not being dramatic, they’re suffering. Be considerate of their condition and stop exposing them to a trigger. Reactions to triggers can sometimes be delayed, so even if someone doesn’t look like they’re suffering now, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be up all night coughing.

The previous post in this series is here.
The next post in this series is here.

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4 thoughts on “Asthma Education Series: Asthma mythbusting

  1. […] The previous post in this series is here. The next post in this series is here. […]

  2. lynnawiensmd says:

    Thanks for the blog. I am amazed how often all of these “myths” disrupt the proper asthma management.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Thanks for the comment! I am not a practitioner, but I am a patient with asthma that’s classed as “severe” here in Canada and upper-end of “moderate” most anywhere else (Canada has a five-category classification system, which I’m sure you probably know as from your blog it says you’re an allergist). These myths are annoying to me.

      Another thing that’s not necessarily a myth but is a misconception that gives me trouble sometimes is when people think asthma’s contagious. That makes things hard on me because my asthma is mostly cough-variant, so I often sound like I have bad bronchitis during a flareup. On the upside, I don’t want for elbow-room on public transit during those times!

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