Fact vs fiction: the truth behind common asthma myths
As many as 334 million people worldwide may be affected by asthma, according to the Global Asthma Network, but it’s still a condition that’s often misunderstood. Here we separate fact from fiction by debunking some of the most common asthma myths.
1. You shouldn’t exercise if you have asthma
Exercise is just as important for asthmatics as it is for everyone else. Exercise strengthens the lungs and the immune system – vital to control the condition – and is important for general wellbeing. You will need to take extra care, but if managed properly it’s possible to exercise normally despite your asthma. Exercising in relatively high humidity may help as this reduces drying of the airways, so you may find it easier to exercise outdoors than in an air conditioned gym. Also be sure to warm up and cool down slowly, take any medication as prescribed and stop if you feel unwell.
2. You’ll outgrow asthma
It’s true that some people outgrow childhood asthma, but symptoms do sometimes recur in later life, particularly if you take up smoking. It’s also possible for adults to develop asthma despite not having it as a child.
3. Asthma is all in your head
While it’s true that stress and strong emotions can sometimes worsen asthma symptoms, the idea that it’s all psychological is simply not true. This myth predates modern medicine and may stem from the fact that there are few external symptoms. Someone with a cut has a visible wound, but an asthmatic sometimes struggles to breathe for what seemed like no reason. Modern medicine shows us that the condition is a very real inflammation of the airways and debunks this myth. That said, stress can be a trigger so try to avoid it if you can.
4. Diet can ease asthma
There have been many studies into herbs and dietary supplements, but none have been found to improve asthma symptoms. That’s not to say that diet is not important – a well-balanced diet helps you stay healthy – but there is no proof that specific nutrients can help manage your symptoms.
5. Asthma medication stops working over time
When taken properly medication does not lose its effectiveness. Mild asthma can normally be treated with inhalers or nebulizers only when symptoms appear, but for more severe cases that’s not enough, which may give rise to this myth as on-the-spot medication seems ineffective. Take your medication as prescribed – which may include a daily asthma treatment for more severe cases – and remember that take medication more often than you should can actually reduce its effectiveness.
6. You only need medication to stop an attack
It’s true that people with intermittent asthma may only need to take medication when they feel an attack coming on, but those with more severe symptoms will need to take a long-term asthma treatment, usually an inhaled corticosteroid, to control inflammation and minimise the chances of an attack. Your doctor will tell you what’s best for you and it’s important to follow his or her advice.
7. Portable inhalers are better for treating asthma than nebulizers
The truth is there are advantages to both portable inhalers and the larger nebulizers, which typically require using a face mask to inhale the medicine. Asthma inhalers are very portable and can easily be carried wherever you go, but are often used incorrectly, which can limit their effectiveness[i]. In one study, just 5% of medical staff were able to properly instruct patients in how to use an inhaler perfectly. Asthma nebulizers are larger (though some models are still portable) but are much easier to use correctly as all the patient has to do is wear the mask and breathe normally.
[i] Ross DL, Gabrio BJ. Advances in metered-dose inhaler technology with the development of chlorofluorocarbon-free drug delivery system. J Aerosol Med. 1999;12:151-160.