Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
photo id with an inhaler as the picture, but there is a red x over it

Don’t Call Me “Asthmatic”

I know that everyone with asthma sees things in a different light.

Since I work in Public Health, our approach may be different from your approach. We use “People First” language. Which means…you put the person first — then their disease (or even a disability). You are describing what you “have” rather than what you “are”.

In fact, when I was first hired, I was told by a director in our state health department to never use the term “asthmatic.” She then explained Person First language and why it’s important.

You can avoid labeling someone

In my job, we say, “I have asthma” instead of “I’m asthmatic.” (When I hear the term “asthmatic”, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard!) **Shudders**

Another example is to say “My son has diabetes” instead of “My son is diabetic.” Or, “My niece has epilepsy” instead of “My niece is epileptic.”

My disease doesn’t define me

Yes, I have asthma. But it doesn’t define who I am. I also have wrinkles, grey hair, am married to a fabulous guy, and have 3 kids in college. That doesn’t define me either. There are a lot of things that make me who I am, not just asthma.

Several years ago, I was part of a research study about asthma. The PI (Principle Investigator) for our grant submitted our research findings to a medical journal for publication. Our abstract was not accepted for several reasons — including NOT using People First language. (To be fair, I had cautioned them at the beginning of the research project to use People First language, but they continued to use the “asthmatic.”)

So…they had to go back through their lengthy research article and edit several things, including every single time they used the term “asthmatic.”

Person First language reminds us to keep people first

I know some people will roll their eyes at all of this political correctness. Remember that Person First language is intended to see you as a person first, then as a person with a trait, disease or disability.

So I may have asthma, but it doesn’t define me.

What are your thoughts?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • OhKay
    2 months ago

    Let me get this off my chest… I’m asthmatic. I’m autistic. I’m a migraineur. Even a bit arthritic. Those are adjectives that describe me, myself and I. Refer to the person as they wish to be referred. Some people prefer the “person first” mode, some prefer the adjective/descriptive mode. Don’t assume. When in doubt: Ask! Don’t correct a person when they describe them self one way or the other. That’s how you honour the person…with the words -they- wish to be described with!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi OhKay and thanks for joining in the conversation. Although I have my own opinion (expressed here a week ago), I think the old adage says it best: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself”, and you can’t go wrong.
    Warmly, Leon (site moderator)

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    2 months ago

    Hey OhKay, very well said! I think people sometimes get so concerned with being “right” they make assumptions and put us all into boxes instead of just asking like you said! I really appreciate your use of “honour” here. When we talk to people they want to be spoken to we are treating them with respect and dignity. Thanks so much for sharing your sentiments with us, it’s great to have you here! Best, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Although I understand the ‘people first’ approach to language, I feel similarly to John and Shellzoo. I would say the best way to approach this is to deal with people in a way that keeps them most comfortable with the terminology. Leon (site moderator)

  • rjmoon
    2 months ago

    I think Person First language is important in the sense that it has replaced a lot of outdated, pejorative terms for people who are ill or disabled.
    I think Person First language is important for people with conditions that carry a lot of social stigma (e.g. “person with substance use disorder” instead of “addict”), but I don’t think the terms “asthmatic,” “diabetic” etc are generally perceived as in such a loaded way.
    For myself I use the terms “have asthma” and “asthmatic” interchangeably. If I’m talking with someone else about their health, I note the way they describe themselves and then use that language. When in doubt, I use Person First.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    What you say describes my thoughts on this subject to a tee. When others are talking I have found it best just to use what they use. Neat when someone things the same way you do. John. Site Moderator.

  • Shellzoo
    2 months ago

    My asthma has become part of my identity. I don’t see it as bad or negative. I just have a touchy airway. I am an asthmatic and I am ok being called so. I think when we worry about it being a label, we make it negative.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi again. I tend to agree with you. I have always just accepted it s a part of who I am. John. Site Moderator.

  • Poll