People sitting in a large tree, representing a family tree

Asthma In My Family

So, I had really bad asthma as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s. I was the only one in my family to have it. Of course, not only did I have it, I had it really bad. My dad would tell me others in the family had it and that my Great Uncle Howard had it really bad, too. Uncle Howard was my dad's uncle (my grandpa's brother).

Asthma can be hereditary

This is true even if no one else in your immediate family has it.1 If you have asthma, chances are pretty good others in your family also had it. It may skip a generation or two, but someone in your family history probably had asthma. If you have it bad, chances are someone else on your family tree also had it bad.2

So, my Great Uncle Howard had it bad as a kid. I don’t know any more details than that. I wish he were still alive so I could talk to him about it, but he’s not. So, I’m left to speculate.

There are over 100 asthma genes

Researchers have discovered many asthma genes.2 So, allow me to speculate here a little bit. My speculation here is sort of like an educated guess on a multiple-choice test question. It’s education guided by common sense and knowledge guided by experience. It’s my opinion based on all the stuff I've read about asthma. And, trust me, I've read a lot.

I have yet to do DNA or genetic testing, so I do not know what genes I have. I think Kerri did and described it in her post, “What About Those Asthma Genes.” A great read if you want to click over and read that. But, do come back.

Asthma in my family history

My mom's allergy genes

I think my mom’s side of the family had allergy genes. I think allergy genes are also asthma genes. I remember mom sniffling and sneezing a lot when I was a kid, but she did not have asthma. She did, however, have allergies. She’s often complaining of itchy eyes just like me.

So, I think mom had a certain combination of asthma and allergy genes. The asthma genes, at that time, remained dormant (although they were activated later on in her life).

My dad's asthma genes

Dad did not have anything close to asthma. Dad has some pretty good genes. He smoked for over 50 years and never even got COPD. So, I think dad has a gene combination that fights against the effects of asthma and COPD. And that too should be the subject of a future post.

But, that does not mean dad doesn’t carry asthma or COPD genes. He might. And, in my dad, they remained inactive for whatever reason. Why? Who knows. But, I believe dad has those genes. I believe this due to stories about Uncle Howard’s asthma. I believe he probably didn’t share this gene with most of his kids. Or, at least it remained dormant in my brothers if they have it. Again, I'm speculating here.

What does this have to do with my asthma?

My dad may have inadvertently shared his asthma genes with me, and my mom inadvertently shared her allergy genes. If mom had dormant asthma genes, she inadvertently shared those with me, too. So, I got the worst of the worst of all--the family allergy and asthma genes. See what I'm getting at here?

So, mom and dad had five kids. I was the unfortunate one to get all of dad's asthma genes and mom’s allergy/asthma genes, and these genes interacted with substances in the air I inhaled. In my case, I think these were allergens like dust mites, mold spores, and animal dander.

When I was a kid, this probably also included cigarette smoke. Mom said dad never smoked around me and I believe that to be true. But, I know for a fact grandpa did smoke around me. We also camped quite a bit as a kid. So, I was exposed to the campfire. Mom and dad had a fireplace, so there was definitely environmental exposure.

I think that one or a combination of these interacted with my allergy/asthma genes. And, lo and behold, this caused me to develop severe allergies early on in my life. I was diagnosed at the age of two. This, I think, led me to develop allergic asthma. Hence, that is why my asthma was so horribly miserable when I was a kid. You can read one percent of my story in "My Pithy Asthma Story."

So, then what?

My uncle Howard grew up. His lungs got bigger. His airways got wider and less irritable. He was probably less exposed to his asthma triggers as he grew up too. For instance, he was no longer crawling under porches or climbing trees he was allergic to. As a result, his asthma seemed to go into hibernation. In my uncle's case, his asthma never showed up again.

Ironically, my Uncle Howard smoked for many years as an adult, too. It’s amazing he didn’t also develop COPD. Without interviewing him, I will never be able to explain this. It would be nice to do genetic testing on him to find out. Unfortunately, this ability did not exist back then.

I grew up and my asthma did improve. But, unlike with Uncle Howard, mine did not go away. My doctors said it would probably go away as I got older. But, it never did. In fact, my asthma was never even controlled until after I was 30 in 2000, when new medicine helped set me on a path to improved asthma control. It's still not perfect, but it's far better than it was.

Is asthma part of your family history? Share your experience in the comments below!

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