Whether your loved one was diagnosed with asthma yesterday or they’ve been living with it for years, you’re probably interested to learn about the impact asthma has on their lives and how to better support them.
I like to think of asthma as a bit of a chameleon of chronic illness. Sometimes it’s a very visible illness and the symptoms, such as heavy breathing, are obvious. Other times, it’s “invisible” and the person living with asthma is managing their condition behind the scenes.
But as someone living with asthma, I’m here to tell you that no matter how effective I am at controlling my symptoms, I feel relieved when others want to learn more about a disease affecting 25 million Americans.
Over time, I have learned that other’s level of concern and support varies when it comes to helping me manage asthma, which is perfectly fine. If you want to do more for a friend or family member living with asthma, these four ways may help you move forward.
1. Understand the disease
It’s easy to get comfortable and think you know all about asthma. I’ve been living with asthma for more than 10 years and I’m still learning, but that knowledge has helped to make living with this condition less challenging for me. If you know someone with asthma, learning more about the disease may help you to better support them.
That doesn’t mean every day will be easy or look the same. It’s about starting with a strong knowledge base from which to make decisions, and being a good champion for your loved one (and yourself).
I’d recommend checking out these three resources to get started:
Once you understand the basics, I’d also recommend researching different online communities such as Allergy & Asthma Network. These types of forums can give you a platform to share your experiences with others.
This particular community is made up of people who are either a supportive friend or in a caregiving role, as well as asthma patients and healthcare providers. Be curious and ask questions since that’s one of the best ways to learn.
When I was younger, my mom would always double-check details of where I’d be going and ask the adult in charge to be mindful of my asthma. She was also great about reminding me to bring my rescue inhaler since my symptoms were largely unpredictable at the time.
This same attention to detail is relevant to adults, especially when you’re going to places with no nearby emergency services. It’s important to know the environment you’re bringing your loved one into.
2. Know the triggers — and how to avoid them
People with asthma normally have a list of triggers that they try to avoid or control as much as they can. For example, places with heavy tobacco smoke are a trigger for me. For others, triggers could be high elevation, pollen, strenuous exercise, and more.
Ask your friend or loved one about their triggers, and try to help mitigate them when you’re together. For example, if strong fragrances trigger their symptoms, try skipping the perfume, cologne, or other strong scents when you’re hanging out. Sometimes even the simplest gesture can make a big impact.
Not all triggers are that obvious, however. In those cases, it’s best to just do what you can to support your friend or loved one when they encounter unexpected triggers.
One of the most unexpected asthma attacks I’ve had was at a beach in my hometown. A few years ago, some friends and I wanted to head down to the beach to catch the sunset. We were driving with the car windows down, enjoying the salty sea breeze when I noticed it was getting harder for me to breathe the closer we got to the beach.
A few minutes later, as we pulled into a parking spot, my airway became totally restricted and I couldn’t talk. It was a scary moment because my inhaler was in the trunk and my friends had never seen my asthma “in action.” I quickly hopped out to grab my rescue inhaler. My friends were notably upset and alarmed by my sense of urgency.
The beach we were visiting was experiencing a red tide, a harmful algal bloom that occurs when a certain type of algae grows out of control and produces toxins. The toxins can have devastating effects on the marine environment and cause respiratory issues for those of us on land. I learned the hard way that day that a red tide can also trigger and exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Thankfully my friends were incredibly supportive and realized how a seemingly harmless decision like visiting the beach could be harmful to me. Knowing your loved one’s asthma triggers can help them stay healthy and avoid flare-ups.
3. Know the action plan
Even controlled asthma can be unpredictable, so it’s important to have an action plan if your loved one’s asthma is suddenly triggered. Most people with asthma have an action plan based on the severity of their symptoms.
For example, my action plan before I exercise is to use my inhaler to help control my symptoms. My action plan for an asthma attack is very different depending on the severity, which could mean using my rescue inhaler or even going to the emergency room.
It’s not only knowing what to do when the worst happens, but also taking good notes — physical and mental ones — so you can make the most informed decision during a critical time.
4. Be kind to yourself
I also want you to be kind to yourself. You’re not going to be perfect and you can’t control every situation. No one can. But you can do your homework, be perceptive, be curious, be caring, and share your experiences with others caring for someone living with asthma.
The disease can become debilitating for some, and not everyone will be open to a can-do attitude. However, it’s OK for you to feel like a superhero when your loved one needs it most. Believe me, they will be forever grateful if you’re able to step in and help ease a frightening situation.
RESP-US-NP-00079 AUGUST 2018