More than 26 million people in the United States have asthma—more than 6 million children and nearly 20 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is responsible for 1.7 million trips to the emergency department each year and more than 3,500 deaths. Being able to separate fact from fiction can help asthma sufferers as well as those who care for them.
MYTH: All asthma is alike.
FACT: Many people, including many asthma sufferers, think all asthma is created equal—but it’s not. There are several different types of the disease, including exercise-induced asthma, cough-variant asthma, occupational asthma, and nighttime asthma. Each of these can range from mild to severe, and treatment depends on the severity. Most people with mild to moderate asthma can control the disease with an asthma inhaler and inhaled corticosteroids. But 5% to 10% of people with severe asthma need additional treatment.
MYTH: People with asthma should avoid exercise.
FACT: Not true! In fact, quite the opposite. Although exercise triggers symptoms for most people with asthma, especially those with exercise-induced asthma, physical activity is recommended because of the many health advantages it provides. It keeps the lungs stronger, in fact. If asthma is well controlled, patients should be able to exercise—and taking a short-acting beta-agonist (SABA) five to 20 minutes before physical activity can help by opening op the airways. Warming up for 10 to 15 minutes before exercising rigorously an also help.
MYTH: If I feel good, I don’t need to take my asthma medication.
FACT: Asthma sufferers should take their long-term control medications every day no matter how good they feel, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The reason? Since asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease, airways are still inflamed even if symptoms aren’t present. Medications reduce the inflammation, thereby reducing sensitivity in the airways and preventing symptoms from flaring up.
MYTH: Asthma medication is addictive.
FACT: The medication isn’t addictive; it’s necessary. Asthma is a chronic lung condition, so people who have it always need to take medication. The disease is still there even when symptoms are not.
MYTH: If treatment isn’t working, it must be the patient’s fault.
FACT: Even people who do everything correctly can have their asthma get out of control. It could be that more or a different type of medication is needed or that the patient has co-morbidities that need attention as well, such as acid reflux, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or obesity.
It’s also common for people to use their inhaler incorrectly, which can prevent the correct amount of medicine from reaching the lungs. Patients should review proper technique with their healthcare provider at every appointment.
MYTH: Dietary supplements can relieve asthma symptoms.
FACT: There is no scientific proof of that. Many supplements have been studied, but none have been shown thus far to help. Soy, in particular, was believed to improve breathing, but a study in the Journal of the American Medication Association showed that it doesn’t help improve the lung function of asthma patients.
MYTH: Smoking isn’t related to asthma.
FACT: This is a commonly held belief: One survey showed that more than 40% of smokers with asthma didn’t believe that smoking had harmed their health.
They’re wrong. Not only does smoking increase the risk of developing asthma; it also makes asthma worse once someone has it. Asthmatic smokers have been shown to have more symptoms, lower lung function, and decreased response to medication. Patients who want to quit should speak to their healthcare provider or access the resources at smokefree.gov.
MYTH: You can outgrow asthma.
FACT: Many children who are diagnosed with asthma—particularly mild asthma—do see a reduction or even elimination of their symptoms. (In one study, 64% of children with the mild form had this experience, compared to 15% of kids with severe asthma. And it’s more common among boys than girls.)
But research has shown that symptoms can reappear later in life, often triggered by an environmental issue or an illness. In a longitudinal study conducted at the University of Arizona, almost two-thirds of people who were “newly diagnosed” with asthma at age 22 were found to have wheezed before the age of 3.
Asthma, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last updated on 9/30/19.