That awkward conversation about asthma, that happens at work

That Awkward Conversation About Asthma That Happens at Work

I had an awkward conversation with a colleague the other day. As seems typical with winter, it is cold and flu season. There was a flu that went around the office that was nicknamed the “office plague”. It took the majority of the office out.

It turns out this colleague caught it from one of their kids, and it took most of their family out during the holidays. They did have a very alarming cough, and she seemed to be experiencing a residual cough when she came back to the office. I want to reiterate that if you are sick, please do not come to the office and make other people sick.

If you are sick, do not come to work

They were convinced that they were significantly past the contagious period. She probably was, however, I have an immune system that loves to catch pretty much everything that it comes in contact with. I would have been okay with this if they chose not to go to my desk for a meeting.

I was surprised when she told me that her underlying asthma lead to bronchitis. I think the science of that statement needs some clarification. I believe that their cold led to acute bronchitis and that acute bronchitis, which has similar symptoms to asthma, can easily be misinterpreted as asthma. I will leave that science to medical professionals.

The difference between asthma and bronchitis

A quick recap:

Asthma is a chronic lung disease in which the airways narrow, swell and produce excess mucus.1

Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the airways. Symptoms may include the production of excess mucus.2

Acute bronchitis, also called a chest cold, usually improves within a week to 10 days without lasting effects, although a cough may linger for weeks.2

Asthma awareness vs holding off

One day, I believe that they told me about their underlying asthma on at least four separate occasions. I never considered myself an asthma snob, but have I become one? I find my asthma pretty personal. I have had to fight with my asthma, fight for it, and my colleague did not seem to understand the struggle. Asthma can certainly be annoying, and I appreciate what they were going through, as I have been there.

Is it my role to educate others about asthma?

I haven’t shared that I am a severe asthmatic with my colleague, but I wanted to correct them on their understanding of asthma a couple times, especially when they were telling me about their symptoms and how “they had to use their” puffers. My thoughts was, "But do you not use a controller every day?" It is my understanding that they do not know or understand the vast phenotypes of asthma that exist.

I found the conversation to be very frustrating to me. Was it my role to educate them? Could I do this without revealing my asthma status and that my daily impacts of asthma were significant? I did not want to share with this person any knowledge about how asthma impacts my ability to work. After all this, I decided to acknowledge that they were being affected by asthma symptoms due to illness and leave it at that.

I wanted to call them out for being misinformed, but I didn’t feel that was the right approach. I know that I knew very little at the onset of my diagnosis, plus, it isn’t nice to be an asthma jerk. I asked a fellow asthma patient/advocate what their thoughts were and if this would be a well-received teachable moment?

The consensus was that my explanation of phenotypes or that others' experiences with asthma may be very different than what she is experiencing and would fall on deaf ears. It was better just to let the conversation drop.

Have you ever had an awkward work discussion about living with asthma? How did you handle it?

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