Asthma: Addressing some of the biggest misconceptions

Today is World Asthma Day and to mark this occasion, we asked Deb Lulling, RN, community nurse and asthma educator, Parkview Health, to define this chronic disease, discuss common symptoms, identify triggers of asthma and debunk common misconceptions.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common chronic disease and affects the small airways in the lungs. It causes you to have reoccurring bouts of breathing issues, like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Asthma is hereditary, so it’s important to be familiar with your family history.

Inside your lungs, you have tiny tubes that resemble vacuum cleaner hoses called “airways.”  Around your airways, there are muscles that look like tiny rubber bands. When your chest tightens up, the muscles tighten up around the airways, making it harder to breathe.

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An asthma exercise

If you don’t have asthma, try taking a coffee stirrer, or a small straw, and put it in your mouth. Now, pinch your nose shut and try to walk around for one minute while breathing through the coffee stirrer. This exercise gives you an idea of what asthma feels like.

If you had to stop and breathe at any point during the exercise, imagine what it is like for someone experiencing an asthma attack. They don’t have the option of taking out the straw to breathe.   

Three ways asthma affects your airways (SET):

  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Extra mucus
  • Tightening of the muscles around the airways

Symptoms of an asthma flare-up include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

Common triggers of asthma include, but are not limited to:

  • Animal dander (pets)
  • Mold and mildew
  • Pollen (flowers/plants)
  • Dust mites (can reside in furniture, mattresses and carpets)
  • Smoke
  • Stress and strong emotions (crying, laughing or yelling hard)
  • Cockroaches
  • Strong perfumes and odors
  • Exercise
  • Weather changes

Different types of asthma

Asthma is diagnosed in two main categories; persistent and intermittent. Those with intermittent asthma can have symptoms one day and then not have any symptoms for a couple of days. Persistent asthma means you are having symptoms every day.

Common misconception about asthma

Asthma is often thought of as a childhood disease, however, it can develop at any age. Adults are often shocked when diagnosed because most think it’s something you get as a child and eventually outgrow.

Once diagnosed, a majority will have this chronic disease for the rest of their life. Some may go through periods, even decades, where they don’t have any issues. But it’s important to still have rescue medicine on hand because you don’t know when you will have a flare-up.

How to manage asthma

It’s important to follow up with your physician when you have asthma, even if you feel better or haven’t experienced any symptoms for a while. 

For example, if you regularly see your primary care provider and experience an asthma attack, you will have your prescribed medications handy to alleviate your symptoms. However, if you regularly cancel your doctor appointments because you think you’re better, you will not have those medications available in the event of an asthma flare-up.

Also, if you don’t manage this disease by doing well-checks, your medications could expire, your symptoms could cause a flare-up and it might lead to an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.

It’s important to be proactive with this serious diagnosis.

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