10 Things Not To Say To Someone Living With Asthma

As I contemplate four and a half decades' worth of asthma memories, there are some quotes that come to mind. These are actually quoted from people in my life and are generally from people who meant well. Still, these are 10 things not to say to someone living with asthma.

10 things not to say to someone living with asthma

1. “It’s all in your head.”

Look, when someone breaks a leg you can see the cast. When someone has chickenpox, you can see the pox. When someone has asthma, you can’t see it. So the logical conclusion is you must be stressed or anxious. Sorry, but it’s not in our heads, it’s in our lungs.

2. “You’re just making excuses.”

I heard this when opting not to play football on a cold Thanksgiving day when smoke from the wood stove was billowing in the air. Sometimes we asthmatics have to make the difficult decision necessary to avoid situations that may trigger asthma attacks. We’re not making excuses, just being smart.

3. “Oh, come on, you’ll be fine!”

So, fine! Not wanting to make excuses, I’d take the risk and play football in the cold, smoky air anyway. Besides, I didn't want to miss out on the fun. Okay, so this didn’t always work out well for the asthmatic. In retrospect, I should have pressured them into staying inside to play video games.

4. “Don’t worry, you’ll grow out of it.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this when I was a kid I’d be rich. I heard it most often when I was 14 and my asthma was out of control. Doctors would try to soothe me by telling me that someday I would grow out of it. I usually just figured they were trying to make me feel better, so I just played along. In retrospect, I just don’t see much good in giving a kid a false sense of hope.

5. “I know what it’s like to have asthma: it’s like breathing through a straw.”

You can’t manufacture what it’s like having asthma. Plus, having asthma is more than being short of breath. Most of our time is spent breathing normally and trying to stay that way by taking medicine and avoiding asthma triggers. Yes, there are those time's when we get short of breath, but it's nothing like breathing through a straw.

6. “You can live a normal life with asthma.”

Well, I suppose this depends on how you define asthma. But from what I witness, people who live normal lives don’t have to take medicine every day, nor have to avoid asthma triggers, nor have to carry a rescue inhaler. I will compromise here and say we can live relatively normal lives.

7. “It’s okay if I smoke in front of you, so long as the window is open.”

Someone I know used to say this to me when we were riding in the same car. He’d light up, and say it. I know he meant well, but he just didn’t understand that, even with the window open, smoke still stayed in the car. When I explained this to him he’d put his cigarette out. But because he doesn’t have asthma, he’d do the same thing the next time we were in the car. I’m not criticizing this guy, just saying that he doesn’t have it, so he forgets.

8. “You can’t exercise or run.”

Well, okay, if you’re presently having asthma symptoms, or if you have uncontrolled asthma, you probably should take it easy. But most asthma experts, going all the way back to the 19th century, recommend exercise to improve asthma control. This is true no matter how bad you have it.

9. “Don’t people die from asthma medicine?”

Actually, just the opposite: asthma medicine saves lives. Asthma medicines help us gain control of our disease so we can live (ahem) relatively normal lives. Surely there are risks, but not being able to breathe is more likely to kill an asthmatic than asthma medicine. The key here is to stay in touch with your doctor and use the medicine exactly as prescribed.

10. “You should try fill in blank. That’ll help you feel better.”

I should try yoga, acupuncture, vitamins, probiotics, or salt therapy. Look, if that cured asthma, doctors would prescribe them. But they don’t, because they don’t work. If they did work, asthma would have been cured long ago, and we wouldn’t be here.

So, what are some things you think shouldn’t be said to someone living with asthma?

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