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Asthma is NOT all in your head!

Asthma is NOT all in your head!

One of the most frustrating things an asthmatic might be told is “it’s all in your head.” Nothing is more demeaning than being told your asthma isn’t real or is in your head. How many of us have been in the midst of a pretty bad asthma flare up and are struggling to catch your breath and someone leans in and tells you to “just calm down and breathe.” While they more than likely mean well, it’s probably the last thing you want to hear. People who don’t have asthma or have never had breathing troubles are unable to truly put themselves completely in our shoes. There are also people out there who are just plain rude and we will save that discussion for another article at another time.

The anxiety connection

Asthma is a disease of the airways caused by inflammation which leads to constriction, making it harder to breathe. Anxiety can definitely cause asthma symptoms to be worse, but try not being able to breathe and remain completely calm! It’s impossible! Anxiety itself doesn’t cause asthma if that makes sense, but it can definitely make asthma that is already there much worse. It’s such a delicate balance. What helps me when my asthma is flaring is to practice pursed lip breathing or holding my hand on my belly and doing some belly breathing. It gives me something to focus on so I am not as anxious.

Your asthma diagnosis

You have been given an asthma diagnosis by a doctor. That in of itself is proof that it’s not all in your head. There are instances when a doctor might question an asthma diagnosis, especially if you don’t present like a “typical asthmatic” with the classic symptoms of wheezing and coughing. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have asthma. However, there are other diseases that can mimic asthma but are not actually asthma. If a doctor (especially a new one to you) questions your asthma diagnosis don’t immediately go on the defensive and assume they think it’s all in your head. It’s the doctor’s job to give the best possible care and rule out (or in) any and all other possibilities for your breathing troubles. They might ask to have you have more recent lung function testing done or even a methacholine challenge to confirm the diagnosis. As always, keep an open dialogue with your medical team. Ask questions and ask them to explain their reasoning for questioning your asthma. Seven years ago I started with a new pulmonologist and he questioned my asthma diagnosis. I was upset at first, but once he explained his reasoning, it made more sense. He had me do a methacholine challenge test which cemented my asthma diagnosis for good. I am one of the asthmatics who do not present typically in that I never wheeze. My lungs just get super tight, making me very short of breath.

When it comes to dealing with naysayers, use it as an opportunity to provide some education on what asthma is and isn’t. Open that dialogue to hopefully help others understand what it is like living with asthma, and that it’s NOT all in your head.

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.

Comments

  • iconhulk
    3 months ago

    Afraid to tell you big pharma and people in bed with them… It is in your head.. H2o (water) and camphor for a medicine taste… Placebo. Real problem tense people need to relax.
    Mind is stronger than you apparently realize….

  • Valerie1126
    8 months ago

    Thank you for writing this. I had a terrible summer with my asthma and the ED doc and some of the nurses initially assumed it was an anxiety attack–until I had to be tubed, BiPapped, or my ABG’s came back. It’s frustrating. Some of us–even those of us with severe asthma–present atypically. Some of us have co-existing conditions such as in my case bipolar disorder. Asthma is real!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Valerie1126 and thanks for your post. Wow -that represents a pretty weak assessment – to have an ED physician and nurses miss your critical condition as just an ‘anxiety attack’! Having to be intubated and then placed on BiPAP with tell-tale arterial blood gases reveals the genuine severity of your condition at that time. Glad that you were able to get through all this during the summer. How are you doing now? Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • krishwaecosse
    8 months ago

    I think what people fail to understand about asthma is that you can be “fine” now, but it doesn’t mean you weren’t struggling to catch a breath an hour or so ago.
    Even close family who aren’t asthmatic can’t truly understand what you mean when you are struggling to breathe or are getting stressed out because your inhalers just aren’t helping enough and your contemplating trying to get the emergency services.
    Asthma isn’t in your head, but mild to moderate symptoms often can feel that way as no one else can always tell, and you taking your inhaler is just”oh that’s what so and so is doing again”.

  • SamuelTaylor moderator
    8 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this thought, krishwaecosse. I believe that your experience resonates with a lot of us here. It can be hard for others to understand your experiences with asthma because they do not share your perception. It’s not at all a product of your head, the experience is real for you, however it’s not an experience for them. It’s a very personal illness. I wish you the best in managing your asthma, it can be a very difficult thing to do. However, this community is here to listen and provide support as much as you need.

    -Samuel, Asthma.net Team

  • Artistgirl
    8 months ago

    During my entire childhood, I was told it was in my head. At one point, in an Emergency Room visit, the nurse had me breath into a paper bag and said to my father, “It’s in her head.” I was in fifth grade…I never complained again. Who wants to be labeled crazy? So…until I was 40, I ignored what was going on…thought I just had REALLY bad chest colds. No doctor evaluated me for asthma. They gave antibiotics…sent me on my way…I wheezed and hacked for months during each “chest cold”. Then, when I was 40, and went to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have pneumonia, Respiratory was called to the ER. They admitted me immediately. I was in the hospital for a week. Put on high doses of steroids…and had a Respiratory Doctor set up with me. I learned that I had been asthmatic my entire life. I had been in VERY dangerous situations due to the asthma attacks that were passed off as a chest cold.

    It was hard to accept, even though deep down, I kinda knew…no one around me had coughs like I did…but still, it was/is difficult to know when I’m really sick because I spent most of my life with people either telling me I was crazy, or minimizing how sick I was. I still find myself thinking, “I’ll give it one more day.” However, I logically understand that is dangerous and err on the side of caution.

    The kicker to all of this, my best friend died of asthma when she was just 5 and I was 6…it’s not like the adults around me didn’t know…it makes me upset.

  • SamuelTaylor moderator
    8 months ago

    Wow, Artistgirl, thank you for sharing this story with us. It’s unfortunate and like you said, “dangerous”, that asthma was not considered for you, or taken seriously for your friend that had a terrible outcome with asthma.

    I’m so happy to hear that you have, after all that time, finally received an accurate diagnosis. I hope that now you are doing better and receiving proper treatment for yourself. Thank you, again, your experience is heard and valued here and I hope that you can find support here. Please keep us updated on how you are doing.

    -Samuel, Asthma.net Team

  • Lyndab2u
    8 months ago

    I lose my voice almost immediately when exposed to stargazer lilies, certain chemicals and irritants along with the tightness in my chest. I am told there is not much wheezing. Occasionally I will wheeze. My pulmonologist says it is asthma. it has a partial base in my acid reflux burning and irritating my bronchial tubes over the years.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi again, Lyndab2u and thanks for sharing your experience with the condition and certain triggers you itemized. I think you’ll find that you are not alone as not all asthmatics wheeze. I believe this article will underscore that point for you: https://asthma.net/living/not-asthmatics-wheeze-not-wheezing-asthma/. I hope you find it makes interesting and informative reading. Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

  • FeelingShy
    8 months ago

    I never wheeze, either, and am so glad to discover someone with a similar experience.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi FeelingShy and thanks for your comment. You are definitely not alone as others in the community have similar experiences with the condition. I thought this article would provide you with some additional insight for your concerns: https://asthma.net/living/not-asthmatics-wheeze-not-wheezing-asthma/. This article was also authored by Theresa (the author of the article (above)). I do hope you find it to be helpful. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    8 months ago

    I rarely wheeze but I do get that tight feeling and sometimes I cough until I can hardly speak. I have been told it is all in my head. When I was first diagnosed, I even denied it. Then my doctor got out his model of the airway and explained things to me. He went over my test results and put the fear in me. Asthma is a condition that kills. It is not in our heads. We have to take precautions, use our medications and inhalers as directed and be aware of our health.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo and thanks for your post. You will see if you look over this article, that not all asthmatics wheeze: https://asthma.net/living/not-asthmatics-wheeze-not-wheezing-asthma/. I hope you find ti to be helpful as well. Leon (site moderator)

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