a woman on high alert as she uses an inhaler. She is surrounded by staring eyes.

Dealing With Asthma In Public: Is Asthma Embarrassing?

Nobody likes unwanted attention—and having an asthma attack in public can certainly bring on unwanted, sometimes embarrassing, attention. People stare. Sometimes people give advice. It can be a lot, and it can easily make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Dealing with embarrassing asthma situations

Learning to live with other people’s reactions is, sadly, all part of having asthma. To find out more about how the community has learned to live with these reactions, we reached out on the Asthma.net Facebook page, asking: “Are you embarrassed when you need to use your asthma inhaler in public?”

Is asthma embarrassing?

More than 1,200 community members voted, with 69 percent answering ‘no.’

Plus, more than 150 community members commented about the question. Here is what you said.

“I always get the look

So many of you dread—or have gotten used to—the looks. The stares. People, whether realizing they are doing it or not, draw their attention to noises, like coughing. So, yes, they may stare. Their stares may make us believe that they think we are doing something wrong or that we are being rude. But really, a stare is just a stare. They simply could be responding to noise and that is it.

“I always get the look and people ask, ‘Are you okay?’ I cough cough cough, and use the inhaler and it makes me cough I barely can get to hold it in for 2 seconds ugh!”

“Some people will stare as if I am an alien or something strange when I use my inhaler. Their staring became even worse when I had to wear my facial mask to help prevent breathing in dust or smelling their strong fragrances or smoke.”

“If I even have a hint of being short of breath, I will use it before I go into a store or out somewhere to avoid this.”

“I feel like everyone is staring at me when I use it.”

“One workmate would watch to see if I was doing it right"

It is strange that the general public often considers themselves experts on everything—including your asthma. But, just because someone wants to give you advice or tell you that you are doing it wrong does not mean you have to listen. One way to skirt their advice is to say, “I appreciate the concern, but I have this handled.” You are within your rights to let others know you do not need advice or suggestions when it comes to your health.

“I used to be, but now it is more that I just do not want to deal with people either freaking out about whether or not I am okay or people telling me that whatever trigger I encountered is not that bad and should not bother me.”

“I am pretty self-conscious about it. When I was first diagnosed, one workmate would watch to see if I was doing it right. She would tell me things like, ‘If you are using a spacer, you are supposed to breathe in and out in it several times.’ Then she would consult another workmate, and they would discuss it.”

“My life is more important than anyone’s opinion"

Others of you have come to realize that your health matters so much more than what others think. Of course your health matters most—but for many people, it can take some work or awareness to recognize that truth. If you are still worrying about the stares, judgment and advice, try asking yourself: what is the worse thing about that negative attention?

Another way to look at it is to consider just the action and not the meaning. In other words, someone might give you advice. Does that have to mean anything about you? Or could it be that they are simply uncomfortable unless they are "helping"?

“I do not care what people think. If I cannot breathe, I will use my inhaler wherever I happen to be. My life is more important than anyone’s opinion.”

“My life is more important than you looking at me in a strange way. Yes, I use rescue inhalers.”

“I did for a long time but as the disease has gotten worse, I do not care anymore.”

“You need to breathe and meds help"

Several of you in the community pointed out that when people are sick, they need medicine—and that is the whole story. Sometimes it is easy to feel bad if there is anything about you that is “different.” But, everyone in the world has something that makes them different. Asthma is simply a medical condition—one that no one should feel embarrassed about.

“No. I do not care. If a diabetic had low blood sugar, they would eat something to raise the blood sugar. I am just helping my bronchial tubes open so I can breathe. A diabetic eats to live, I inhale to live. If someone does not like it, that is their problem.”

“Why would you be embarrassed? You need to breathe, and meds help you. I am not sure I understand the logic of this question.”

“I have always taught my kids since they were little to never be embarrassed about using your puffer in public. It is a life-saving device. If people see you using it, they then know your cough is asthma, not a cold, flu or virus. They will understand that your cough is not contagious.”

What do you think?

We want to say thank you to everyone in the community who shared their thoughts and experiences. We appreciate all your input!

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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.

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