Have you heard that a person can "grow out" of asthma? Or that eating certain foods may either worsen asthma or lead to improvement?
As with many other diseases, there are plenty of myths, rumours, and old wives' tales that surround asthma. Some people strongly believe that asthma is a psychological disease, and that it is all in the mind. Others think that asthma is contagious, while some people even believe that asthma is not all that dangerous and cannot cause death.
Here are some of the myths surrounding asthma and the medical evidence that proves otherwise.
Myth #1: Asthma is not that serious and deaths from asthma are rare
Breathing is fundamental to life and therefore anything that affects your breathing, even temporarily, is serious. Because asthma is variable and can change from mild to severe, it can be life threatening and should always be taken seriously.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual worldwide deaths from asthma have been estimated to be at 250,000.
In fact, one-third of all children who die from asthma were diagnosed with only a mild form of the disease.
Death can occur when asthma has not been diagnosed in the first place, or if an asthmatic did not have a reliever handy while having an attack. One way of identifying if a patient is at a higher risk of death is when he/she is taking a lot of puffs out of the inhaler daily, even requiring two or more inhalers in a month.
This shows that asthma is not controlled.
Asthma can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life, and although it can be fatal, most deaths from asthma are actually preventable. Proper management of asthma is needed, and always remember that asthma should not be taken lightly.
Myth #2: Children who have asthma eventually grow out of it
Around 50% of children suffering from asthma show improvement in symptoms (which include tightness of chest, breathlessness, coughing and wheezing) as they grow older.
In some children, these symptoms may even completely disappear, though others with severe or persistent asthma often remain the same as adults.
Asthma is a chronic disease. Even in the absence of asthma symptoms, patients should still continue to take their medication regularly.
However, even when symptoms disappear completely, they may return later on in life, especially if there are infections, or in some people, when they exercise.
There is also a common misconception that one should only use medication when one has the symptoms. But asthma is a chronic disease; even in the absence of asthma symptoms, patients should still continue to take their medication regularly. Asthma is a life-long condition, which may get better or worse over time, but for most people, is present for the rest of their lives.
A cure for asthma?
Myth #3: You can cure asthma
In an attempt to cure asthma, many parents have turned to alternative or complementary treatments, like homeopathy, yoga, ayurveda, herbal therapy, and acupuncture. There is no research or evidence that can prove their efficacy.
Once you have asthma, you'll always have asthma.
In addition, lack of information about their safety may even cause some risks to patients, as the side effects are not clear. The best medication remains your inhalation treatment, whereby total asthma control is possible with regular and continuous use.
It is important to remember that although you may not suffer from a lot of asthma symptoms, it does not mean that your asthma has gone away. Once you have asthma, you will always have asthma.
Myth #4: Eliminating wheat and milk from the diet helps asthma
Diet actually plays only a minor role in the management of asthma, and eliminating certain foods may even affect nutrition adversely, especially in children.
Although some children who suffer from food allergies may go on to develop asthma, there has been no scientific evidence that food like milk, wheat and eggs worsen asthma, or even cause asthma.
Cold, dry air can irritate hypersensitive lungs and trigger asthmatic symptoms.
Eliminating wheat or milk from a person's diet will help only if you are ALLERGIC to wheat and milk, and not if you suffer from asthma.
One of the reasons why asthmatics react to cold drinks, such as cold milk, is due to the inhalation of the cool, dry air while it is being drunk. Cold, dry air can irritate hypersensitive lungs, causing the muscles around the bronchial tubes to constrict, becoming even narrower, and results in wheezing, coughing or breathing difficulty.
Myth #5: You cannot play sports or exercise if you suffer from asthma
As long as you are taking your asthma medication regularly, there is no reason not to exercise or play sports. Exercising in conditions that are dry and cold may aggravate asthma in some people, causing wheezing or breathlessness to occur.
Swimming has been said to be good for asthma, as well as yoga and sports like sprinting, as they do not involve continuous running, allowing you to take breaks in between.
There is no reason not to exercise or play sports. Some are even said to be good for asthmatics!
Do take your controller medicines as prescribed by the doctor, and for some asthmatics, taking reliever medication just before exercising helps greatly.
Asthma does not mean you can't pursue your dreams; in fact, you would be surprised to know that many top cricketers, swimmers, and even Olympic gold medallists have asthma!
Myth #6: Exposure to animals and dust will desensitise you to them
Many types of animals, including indoor pets, have been shown to trigger asthmatic inflammation in those who have asthma. Asthma is not triggered by the animal's fur or feathers, but instead is caused by its dander, which are proteins that are secreted by the oil glands, saliva, as well as urine. These allergens can remain circulating in the air, on carpets, as well as on furniture for weeks or even months after a pet is gone.
Ongoing exposure will often cause symptoms like wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath to worsen. Therefore, restricting pets from entering bedrooms and other common areas, consistent bathing of the animal, as well as frequent vacuuming of the carpets and cleaning of the furniture can help in relieving these symptoms.
Asthma is not triggered by animal fur, but by dander.
Dust, which contain endotoxins (by-products of bacteria) as well as dust mites, are also common triggers of asthma. Rooms should be dusted thoroughly, at least once a week, and with a damp cloth to avoid dust from flying into the air.
Vacuum frequently, and if possible, keep areas carpet-free to ensure easy cleaning and to avoid dust from gathering.
Bed sheets, pillowcases, blankets and curtains should be washed with hot water to kill house dust mites.
Control asthma: get the best out of your life
Having asthma does not mean you cannot live your life the way you want to. You should not restrict your child from doing the things that he/she enjoys, such as playing basketball and dancing, if they are asthmatic.
Instead, living a healthy and active life despite asthma is not difficult and can be done easily, all through proper management and control.
- Take controller medication regularly, even if there are no symptoms and you are feeling well. Keep reliever medication handy.
- Identify your triggers and try to avoid exposure to them.
- Practise cleanliness - wash bedding regularly, and clean furniture and carpets frequently.
- Follow your treatment schedule accordingly to avoid asthma flare ups, and this can help save lives.
Most deaths from asthma are preventable and can easily be avoided with proper control. It is a chronic, life-long disease that should not be neglected even when there are no symptoms or if you are feeling well.
Understand asthma as a whole, learn your triggers, and always consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.