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Don’t Tell Me It’s “Just Asthma”

I’ve written before on the many stigmas that surround asthma. I wanted to take some time to talk about the one that irks me more than the rest which is when people are very nonchalant about asthma.

Misconceptions about asthma

There is a vast misconception surrounding asthma that it’s “no big deal” or that it “can’t actually kill you.
Asthma is a serious disease and should be regarded as such. A lot of it comes down to education of the disease. TV, movies and the media definitely don’t do anything to smash this misconception that asthma isn’t something to be taken seriously.

Here are some statistics from the CDC about asthma:

*There are 18.4 million (7.6%) adults with asthma, and 6.2 million (8.4%) children with asthma.
*There are over 1.6 million ER visits annually with asthma as the primary diagnosis.
*3,651 people died directly from asthma in the United States in 2014, which is around 10 people per day who die from this disease. However the asthma death rates have gone down by 26% from 1999 (thanks to medication and treatment breakthroughs!)

Asthma attacks

Even a mild asthmatic can have a life threatening asthma attack. Another common misconception regarding asthma is that only severe asthmatics can have life threatening attacks. While it is often true that severe asthmatics may have more frequent scare flare ups, it doesn’t mean that mild asthmatics only have mild flare ups. Asthma is a disease that can change over time. It can get better and even go dormant into a remission of sorts, but can come back worse than before. Also, uncontrolled asthma over time can lead to irreversible airway remodeling/scarring.
Whether you have been diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe asthma, any asthma attack is terrifying. There’s nothing worse than not being able to breathe. Someone who has never experienced that feeling naturally won’t get it.

“Just breathing” won’t fix asthma

I think we can all relate when I say we’ve all been told by a family member or friend (or even stranger) say “just breathe” when they see us have an asthma attack. To me that’s the single worst thing one can say to an asthmatic. While they mean well, they just simply don’t get it. One instance I can clearly remember from my teenage years was when in physical education class we were told to run a mile. I was pretty athletically fit in high school. I did a lot of sports growing up but it was my high school years when my asthma started becoming more bothersome. While I was running my asthma started acting up so I had to stop running and start walking around the track. The teacher told me to not stop running. I told him my asthma was acting up and I couldn’t continue running. He shouted at me from across the field that it was “just asthma” & it shouldn’t stop me from running. If he only knew how much that statement would shape my life’s mission. Educating those around us about the seriousness of the disease is of utmost importance. People don’t make the “it’s just asthma” statements to be mean or condescending (at least most people don’t), they just don’t understand the disease itself. While it can really hurt when we hear people say these things, do me a favor and use it as a teaching moment if possible. Explain what happens to the airways during an asthma flare up- swelling, excess mucus production, and tightness- all due to inflammation. It’s not something that “just breathing” will fix. Asthma is a disease that needs to be taken seriously and it’s up to us to change the stigma.

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


  • bichons9
    1 year ago

    Why many consider that “Asthma is NO BIG DEAL”..I have no scientific data to answer this question. After reading the excellent information provided, I want to be very careful not to undermine the status of a patient’s Bronchial asthma. As a mother of a daughter with severe Bronchial Asthma, I become quite upset when learning of deaths following an attack. As a HCP for >40 years, performing admission H&P’s on young women, the number of patients listing “Asthma” as a main medical condition is remarkably high. And whether the patient describes their “Asthma” as mild or severe, I gather detailed specific information that has led me to believe that this condition may be falling on deaf ears when heard by the patients’ friends, neighbors and even family…Thus, being, “…NO BIG DEAL…” WHY!!! I can’t think of a great analogy to express my following rationale: As the number of Asthma patients drastically increase, there may be a decreased belief that the condition is nothing more than “a cold”…I have been involved with two maternal deaths related to “Asthma”…two too many. However, some asthma patients report multiple attacks per month while others report their last attack seven years ago…Some patients report receiving multiple treatments with various medications that same day, while others (young women) may report receiving their last treatment at age three years old. I believe that most non medical persons not afflicted with and not associated with an Asthmatic are not researching the condition and have not read information on a site like, “”. On more than a few occasions when admitting a pregnant woman to the hospital,experiencing dyspnea related to Asthma, family members seemed really confused and sometimes irritated, stating “Why, It’s just Asthma?”… “She’ll be fine.Can you just give her something to take at home?”… “She has to work…” “Who’s going to take care of her other kids?” What effect does does the increasing number of “Asthmatics” have on the “collective public” that does not understand the seriousness of Bronchial Asthma?

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