Asthma: Beyond the Stereotypes

Athlete with asthma

You’re watching a movie or a TV show, and somebody reaches for an inhaler: what does that person look like?

Probably not David Beckham.

Pop culture has a long history of stereotyping people with asthma as being nerds. Usually it’s for comic effect. Sometimes it’s to show vulnerability. But asthma is almost always used to convey weakness.

The truth is anybody can suffer from asthma, even a dashing English soccer star like Becks.

Twenty-five million Americans, or approximately one in 12, has the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number is on the rise.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. The peak of the season is the perfect time to spread the word about asthma and allergies, which often go hand in hand, and to clear up misconceptions about these diseases.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways narrow and swell and can produce mucus. Constricted airways can impair breathing, and cause coughing and wheezing. Symptoms can be mild or severe—even life-threatening. Some compare the feeling of an asthma attack to trying to breathe through a narrow or flattened straw.

The Mayo Clinic describes three types of asthma:

  • Exercise-induced asthma often worsens in cold, dry weather
  • Occupational asthma is triggered by things like chemical fumes, gases, or dust in the workplace
  • Allergy-induced asthma is stimulated by airborne substances, such as:
    • Pollen
    • Mold spores
    • Pet dander
    • Cockroaches
    • Rodents

Colds and flus can also serve as triggers, as well as strong emotions, such as anger, fear, and excitement.

Asthma treatments

There is no cure for asthma, but there are effective treatments that can help manage it. There are two types of medications, ones that offer long-term control and others that provide quick relief.

Long-term medications are taken regularly and help control symptoms and limit attacks. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most common and effective type, reducing the swelling in airways.

You may be more familiar with the quick-relief medications, usually inhalers. They are used when an asthma attack has already started or when symptoms worsen.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends that everyone with asthma should have a treatment plan in writing. A free sample plan form is available on the AAFA website.

There are many variations of asthma. It is essential to see your doctor to form a treatment plan that works best for you.

To learn more about asthma, visit our Wellness page and search “asthma.”

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