For decades, people living with asthma have experienced social stigma. A recent study on the subject highlighted the lack of positive media representation of asthma. The stigma can be so bad that some people are afraid to use their inhalers in front of their peers to avoid looking weak and feeble. But if untreated and uncontrolled asthma attacks may be serious and can be fatal.
Here are a few reasons why you should reject the stigma surrounding asthma and talk about your condition with your healthcare provider and the people closest to you.
Stress and emotions can be triggers
If asthma was only triggered by things we could control, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. We’d just avoid those triggers.
The problem is that stress, anxiety, and other normal emotions you experience daily can set off asthma, too. That means you can be at risk for an asthma attack just from laughing or crying!
Other people can help
One of the reasons why I appreciate my husband is that he’s always good at pointing out patterns. It’s how we noticed some of my triggers and how I learned to handle many of them. It makes me comfortable knowing that he’s familiar with my inhaler and what an asthma attack looks like. He’s also the first to tell me when I need to take medication to handle almost any health issue.
Since we never know what triggers we may come across throughout the day, from laughter to stress to heavy scents, it’s important that people around us know that I have asthma. Letting them know about it can help them be more compassionate. For example, they could wear less perfume, or they could learn how to help when an attack happens.
In 2015, there were over 3,500 asthma-related deaths in the United States. Most of those deaths could have been avoided. If you wait to use your inhaler to avoid bothering people or drawing attention to yourself, your asthma can take a serious turn in a matter of minutes. Monique Caissie learned this the hard way when she nearly died while waiting to use her inhaler so she wouldn’t have to use it in front of others.
But many asthma sufferers refuse to be shamed. Erin, a blogger with multiple chronic illnesses, says, “I don’t feel the need to hide my asthma. Mine is fairly mild, but when it does flare, it has put me in the hospital before, so I know how serious it can be.”
Kelly is another blogger who’s had a similar experience: “As an adult, [my] asthma has gotten worse and I have no shame whipping out my portable nebulizer and inhaler in public for lengthy periods of time for treatments. I’m just grateful nebulizers have decreased in size. It took me 25 years to get a machine smaller than my head.”
Unfortunately, it often takes facing a serious complication from asthma for many of us to start taking care of ourselves. I didn’t have medical care for nearly 14 years. It wasn’t until a few years ago when bronchitis activated my asthma beyond what I thought I could control that I began to take it more seriously. Even so, I often don’t carry my inhaler with me like I should.
Owning it can be helpful
Once I began to own my asthma, I felt like I could pay more attention to it. Instead of living in denial, I began to pay attention to my symptoms. I even started drawing connections between things and identifying my triggers. Whenever I had spicy foods, I’d notice an uptick in my symptoms. It’s not easy to figure out our triggers — especially weird, unique ones — if we’re spending time hiding our asthma.
Being an advocate
Using my inhaler more often in public makes my asthma visible to others. It also means I can be an advocate for my condition. I can educate people who ask insensitive questions and even be a positive representation for others. I always hope that I can help other people with asthma by reminding them that it’s not weak and feeble to take care of yourself and preserve your life.
Lifestyle blogger Alessia has no problem being vocal about her asthma: “I’m very outspoken (and sometimes even a bit melodramatic) about it since people dismiss it, so I just want them to realize the extent to which it affects people’s lives.”
Like Alessia, Erin also enjoys being an advocate for asthma, noting that, “I’ve become a bit of a self-proclaimed advocate for chronic illness and disability in the last couple of years, and I love to be the annoying person who educates people to try and erase stigma.”
Whatever the reason you defy stereotypical stigmas about asthma, remember one thing: It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.
RESP-US-NP-00062 MAY 2018