How much do you know about asthma? Maybe not as much as you think. The more you know about asthma, the better you can keep yourself or your loved ones healthy. Learn the difference between asthma myths and facts.
Myth: Asthma is only caused by air-borne allergies such as mold and pollen.
Fact: Everyone has different asthma triggers. It’s true that allergies may cause as many as half of asthma attacks. But air-borne allergies are only part of the story.
Allergies to cats, dust mites, cockroaches and even certain foods are other common asthma triggers. There are many other causes as well — some that have nothing at all to do with allergies. Others triggers include working out, breathing cold air, stress and infections that cause airways to become clogged with mucus.
Myth: It’s easy to diagnose asthma in children.
Fact: It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under age 5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors should check how well a child’s lungs work and check for allergies.
The doctor should ask whether the child coughs a lot and whether the child’s breathing problems are worse after exercise or at certain times of the year. The doctor should also ask about chest tightness, wheezing and colds that last for more than 10 days. He or she should ask whether anyone in the family has asthma, allergies or other breathing problems.
Asthma can be confused with other illnesses, such as croup and cystic fibrosis. The only way to know for sure that someone has asthma is through a breathing test using a tool called a spirometer. It measures the amount of air a person is able to breathe in and out.
Myth: Asthma is easy to control.
Fact: It’s true that asthma can be controlled. But it isn’t always easy. Following your treatment plan is one important factor in keeping asthma under control.
There are four kinds of asthma: intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent.
People who have mild, moderate or severe persistent asthma need a daily drug to control swelling of the airways. Patients whose asthma is under control should have symptoms no more than two days per week and one to two nights per month.
A 2007 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 55 percent of patients had asthma that was not under control. A phone poll of 200 patients with asthma found that more than one-third had taken less than 75 percent of their prescribed puffs of long-term control drug during the previous week.
As a result, 46 percent had to take two or more puffs of rescue medicines. These medicines, delivered by an inhaler, give short-term quick relief when asthma symptoms flare up. Rescue inhalers do just that — they work quickly to “rescue” someone who is having trouble breathing. They do that by relaxing and opening the breathing tubes in the lungs.
Controller inhalers, on the other hand, work longer term to help control asthma and prevent symptoms. These medicines work more slowly but last longer. They should not be used to fight an asthma attack.
Myth: Since exercise can cause an asthma attack, children with asthma should not join sports teams or play actively.
Fact: Asthma didn’t stop athletes Paula Radcliffe, a marathoner, or Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a track star, from going to the Olympics.
Having asthma might call for some change to a child’s activity, making sure there is more time to rest, but a child with asthma should still get plenty of exercise. In fact, being fit means that there is less of a burden on the lungs during exercise.
Being active also helps people stay at a healthy weight, which can lessen asthma symptoms.
Still, children with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan from their doctor that can be shared with the child’s parents, school nurse, teachers, coaches and others. The Asthma Action Plan outlines the child’s asthma triggers, symptoms and proper care.
Myth: Being overweight has nothing to do with asthma.
Fact: People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have asthma. And research done at Emory University in Atlanta found that obese adults with asthma were 66 percent more likely to have ongoing symptoms. And they were 36 percent more likely to miss work and 52 percent more likely to have more severe asthma than people who were not overweight.
Myth: The No. 1 sign of asthma is a wheezing sound when someone breathes.
Fact: Wheezing is one symptom of asthma. But it is not the only one. Other signs of asthma are coughing, being short of breath, feeling congested, finding it hard to breathe after exercising and recurring bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia.
Myth: Asthma can be cured.
Fact: There is no cure for asthma. It is a life-long health issue. But with proper care, treatment and training, the disease can be managed. A key piece of that is understanding your asthma triggers and learning how to avoid them.
Myth: Children will outgrow asthma.
Fact: This is both true and false. About half of children who had asthma between ages 2 and 10 notice a marked drop in symptoms as they grow. But asthma can come back when those children reach their 30s.
Myth: The best way to control asthma is a rescue inhaler.
Fact: There are many ways to treat asthma, but using a rescue inhaler more than twice a week means asthma is not well controlled. Talk with your doctor about daily controller drugs, ways to avoid asthma triggers and other ways to keep asthma under control.
Myth: Asthma is mostly a problem for inner city kids.
Fact: Nearly 26 million Americans have asthma. People across ethnic and racial groups and in all parts of the country have asthma. It is one of the country’s costliest and most common health problems.
To learn more about asthma and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois’ Taking on Asthma initiative, visit bcbsil.com/taking-on-asthma.