Men With Asthma
Asthma has no discretion; it will tighten its grip around a person of any sex, age, ethnicity, or body type. As a disease with many different variables and pathologies, it seems like everyone is at risk. However, it’s not an even spread. While anyone can be affected by asthma, there are differences in the demographics, especially surrounding age and gender. For more information on gender differences in asthma, check out our other article, "A Question of Gender." These differences can be pretty interesting.
Women are more likely to have adult-onset asthma and are also more likely to experience severe asthma symptoms. It is far more common for women to interact in our community than men, so, this is an article about how men are affected by asthma. It’s always great to hear from all the courageous women of our community, however, we also care a lot about getting men talking in the conversation as well. This is an article to start that dialogue.
Gender statistics and the "flip"
Asthma is less common in men than women; almost half as common actually. According to the Center for Disease Control, 5.4 percent of men have asthma as of 2018, compared to 9.8 percent of women.1 This is interesting because it is more common for boys to diagnosed with asthma during childhood than girls. Research has shown that there is a “flip” in those numbers during puberty years; signaling a lot of researchers to look to sex hormones as an explanation to the gender differences in asthma.
Testosterone and asthma
A study published by Dr. Fuseini in 2017 had interesting findings regarding sex hormone interaction with asthma. The study showed that ovarian hormones increased airway inflammation while testosterone (a male sex hormone) decreased inflammation.2 The study was fairly groundbreaking at the time because it gave a glimpse into why women might experience asthma differently than men. It also confirmed the assumption that puberty was a culprit in the “flip”. The purpose of the study was to understand new treatment options for asthma that might be gender-specific, unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to make recommendations in any direction. So, more research was needed and conducted.
Just about a year ago, more interesting research came out of Johns Hopkins Medicine. New research showed that testosterone actually induced allergic inflammation in the airways of mice.3 This came as a surprise because it countered the previous ideas that had been formed around sex hormones and asthma. It became clear that indeed these hormones play a role in our asthma, but differently depending on the type of asthma. Different phenotypes of asthma are affected differently and adversely by testosterone. What does this mean? There will be future articles as new research emerges.
The gender imbalance in asthma research
One thing that I found consistently interesting while writing this article was how much larger the sample sizes were for women in a study, compared to men. It makes sense, one might think, because women are affected by asthma more significantly than men, on average. However, there is still an importance to better understand the physiology of asthma in men. I hope to be able to write more soon as more research emerges.
Masculinity affected by asthma
As an asthmatic man, I have certainly experienced times where my asthma has influenced my gender roles. For example, young men are expected to perform well in athletics. However, many times my asthma can hinder my performance or even keep me sedentary with a steady wheeze. Asthma can really challenge the roles that are pressured by society, to make us feel as we are not performing "like a man should."
To this, I say we are valuable in many ways and each have our talents. If your asthma is inhibiting you being what society tells you to be, then be what feels right to you. I am a man; not a magazine man with nice cologne and big muscles, but a passionate man with stories of summiting peaks and the natural odor to prove it.
To wrap it up
I wrote this article with the intention of understanding how men, specifically, are affected by asthma. It's challenging to write with small amounts of conflicting and evolving research. However, It made me realize that asthma has nudged me in the direction of being a more authentic self, just by avoiding my triggers and doing what makes me feel empowered. I'd love to hear how your asthma has affected your ability to fill gender roles, man, woman, or non-binary. How has asthma made you, you?
If you would like to share your thoughts on what it's like to be a man with asthma we encourage you to share your experience with the community.
Have you ever experienced an itchy chin prior to or during asthma attacks?