With 25 million US citizens suffering with asthma, you probably have a friend, loved one, or colleague with the condition. Kamilah Howard gives us 4 tips to support someone with asthma or another respiratory illness.
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 support them better.
I like to think of asthma as a bit of a chameleon of chronic illness. Sometimes it’s an obvious illness and the symptoms, such as heavy breathing, are evident. Other times, it’s “invisible,” and the person living with asthma manages 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 others’ 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 means living with this condition is less challenging for me. If you know someone with asthma, learning more about the disease may help you support them better.
That doesn’t mean every day will be easy or look the same. It’s about starting with a solid knowledge base 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 recommend researching different online communities such as Allergy & Asthma Network. These forums can give you a platform to share your experiences with others.
This particular community is made up of supportive friends or those in caregiving roles and 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 go to places with no emergency services nearby. You and your loved one need to have a grasp of your environment.
2. Know your asthma triggers — and how to avoid them
People with asthma usually have a list of triggers that they try to avoid or control as much as possible. 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 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 significant impact.
Not all triggers are that obvious, however. In those cases, it’s best to 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 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 certain algae grow out of control and produces toxins. The toxins can have devastating effects on the marine environment and cause respiratory issues for 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. Make an asthma action plan
Even controlled asthma can be unpredictable, so it’s crucial 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 wise, curious, 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.
NPS-ALL-NP-00539 MARCH 2022