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woman on plane upset because the person behind her has a cat

Why Do I Have To Tell You I Have Asthma?

I enjoy talking about asthma when it helps others

I really enjoy teaching people with asthma how to better manage their disease. Collaborating with clinicians on how to improve the patient/doctor relationship is extremely rewarding. It’s empowering to lobby for funding and policies that help people with asthma. Being an educator and outspoken advocate is my passion. I’ll share my own asthma story with anyone who will listen.

But what I don’t enjoy is having to tell people I have asthma in an effort to be in an environment that doesn’t cause me harm.

A recent cross-country flight

Several months ago on a cross-country flight, I had paid extra for a seat in the front of the plane. With a quick layover, I wanted to make sure I could get off the plane quickly to make my connection. Just when boarding was almost finished, a man with a cat in a carrier ran onto the plane and sat right in front of me. Panic set in. I’m highly allergic and knew sitting so close to the cat for a few hours would cause asthma symptoms.

I explained to the flight attendant that I couldn’t sit so close to the cat due to my allergy and asthma. Since the airline has an open seating policy, I asked if the passenger and cat could move to another seat. I was told that I could move my seat or take another flight. After all, I was the one “with the problem.”

Taking a later flight wasn’t an option, nor was staying in my current seat. So, I asked the flight attendant to help me find a seat away from the cat. My new aisle seat in the last row of the plane was far from perfect, but at least I was far away from the cat. I was frustrated that I had to publicly self-identify as someone with asthma and allergies.

Hearing people’s judgemental comments is hurtful

Some people on the plane thought I was overreacting and happily told me so. Comments like “I bet her allergy is not that bad” were hurtful. I often feel judged by the able-bodied and healthy. It’s frustrating, because:

  • Many disabilities are invisible. Even when we tell people we have a condition like asthma, they either A) don’t believe us, B) think we are being over-dramatic or C) using it as an excuse to get attention or special accommodations. Because people don’t believe us, we are forced to…
  • Prove it. How often do we hear “You don’t look sick or like you’re having trouble breathing.” Or, “Just relax and breathe, you’ll be fine.” It’s exhausting to continually fight to be heard, understood, and believed. Sometimes it’s easier to stay silent.
  • We deserve privacy. Sharing our health conditions should be voluntary. We shouldn’t be forced to share under stressful circumstances, like asking flight attendants to help in front of a plane of judgmental passengers.
  • All spaces should be inclusive. It feels like accommodating those of us living with chronic conditions, complex diagnoses or physical limitations are an afterthought. Public places such as schools, offices, healthcare facilities, and churches should be fragrance-free. Public transportation needs to offer pet-free options.

Have you ever needed to explain your asthma?

Having to tell someone – whether its a coworker, stranger or family member – that something they are doing impacts your asthma is never easy. Have you been forced to explain your asthma in an effort to get reasonable accommodations? Share in the comments below!

For more tips on how to live and eat better with asthma, follow me on social media @asthmachef or visit my website, Asthma Chef.

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

  • Sarah-artist
    4 months ago

    In April I contracted the Poison Ivy and Flu, 2 days apart (long story), even though I was vaccinated. After a few days of a high fever I went to the Urgent care clinic and was given an inhaler, a cream for the rash and Cloracetin for cough since I also have hypertension. Six days later I was back at the clinic because the fever never broke on it’s own and I was still fighting the symptoms of Flu and now a raging Bronchitis cough. The second P.A. to see me gave me a laundry list of drugs to take and a script for a nebulizer machine. Even still after a total of 37 days with a cough I go back and am formerly diagnosed with Asthma after some testing. I missed 2 weeks of work, and have had to explain to countless customers, as I am a cashier, that the cough was a bronchial condition, I now know as Asthma. This reality is new and scary. My grandfather died of lung cancer (he smoked 60+ yrs.) and my grandmother died of Pulmonary fibrosis a year and half ago (never smoked). I am still getting used to the inhalers and treatments, coughing spells are less often, but it is difficult with work as Germaphobic people think I am contagious and co-workers who have seen me have a major episode, lose my balance and become wheezy treat me as though I am ‘fragile’.

  • Kats
    5 months ago

    For 22 yrs. I taught school. I had allergic reactions to the chalkboard dust. I had to request in three different schools for the chalkboard to be removed from my room. I had finally bought my own white board…so other than mounting it there wasn’t an expense to the school. However each time I had to explain multiple times “why” I hate being labeled. But, I managed.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Kats and thanks for joining in the conversation prompted by this very interesting article by our own Lorene Alba. We appreciate you sharing your experiences with the community. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Runningfrog
    5 months ago

    I really don’t mind having to explain to people why they can’t do something they have every right to do. I think there is a fine line between accommodating those with disabilities and punishing those without.

    I do wish that people took asthma more seriously. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves as a serious life threatening disease.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    We hear you, Runningfrog. It can be frustrating dealing with people who do not seem to have any understanding of this condition. And, how their very actions can affect our own well-being. We appreciate you joining the conversation here.
    Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Well said, Runningfrog. There is certainly a lot of opportunity for education about asthma and it’s serious nature. – Lyn (site moderator)

  • Tempest
    5 months ago

    Cigarette smoke is a bad trigger for me, and I have explained this to people numerous times. My family tries to be accommodating now, but at first some seemed to think I was just being judgmental of them. Strangers look at me like I am being over dramatic when I cough around their smoke. At work people liked to sit outside the back door to smoke. Well, that ruined a place to relax for me. Plus signage stated not to smoke within 15 feet of the door. Sometimes my asthma makes me feel like a pariah.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Tempest – Cigarette smoke was always my worst trigger! You’re right, people do not understand what a problem it can cause for someone with asthma. I hope besides your family you’ve found a few co-workers that understand and are sympathetic. We’re always here to empathize when you need it.
    Regards – Lyn (site moderator)

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Tempest, thank you for sharing your experiences with the community. We hear you, smoke can be a trigger for a lot of people in the community so you’re not alone! It’s challenging to deal with smoke in the workplace, and incredibly unfair that you are left feeling like a pariah. Know that you’re always welcome here and we understand you! I really appreciate you being so open with us. Best, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Awesome article, Lorene. I think there are many in this community (including myself) who can relate to this. And yes, I have had to do this numerous times, even to the same people over and over and over who should know better. I think in a sense you kind of grow numb to it after a time, and that’s probably not good either. Thanks for another great article. John. Site Moderator.

  • Lorene Alba, AE-C moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thanks, John! I often struggle with if and when I should speak up…~ Lorene

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Lorene – as a certified asthma educator (with asthma), I think you should always speak up! What you say has merit!!
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    5 months ago

    I once was a passenger on a flight to Florida that had been delayed for a few hours. We were all eager to get to our destination. Then they announced that a child with a severe nut allergy would be on the flight and requested that anyone with nut products give them to the flight attendants. They were willing to store them in cargo. This request was made a few times and each time was more desperate. There was one passenger who had a tin of Georgia pecans that would not budge. The airline said they would not fly until every single nut product was given to the flight attendants. At the time I did not have a nut allergy but, I was extremely glad the airline was so supportive of this child’s special need. A slight inconvenience for me was life or death for this child. I heard all the grumbling around me about how this child should not fly on airplanes. Judgements without knowing why. Perhaps this was a Make a Wish trip, or a trip for special necessary treatment at a children’s hospital? Whatever the reason, that child had a right to a safe flight and it outweighed anyone’s right to a peanut candy bar. I think pets on planes are another situation because people have service pets. I am very allergic to dogs. I have a dog but I get shots and my dog does not shed dander as much as other breeds. I have had to change seats due to dogs with dander being too close to my seat. I do pre-medicate before flights with my allergy cocktail and I keep my inhaler in my carry-on where I can get to it quickly. My last flight let me board early to wipe down my seat due to the nut allergy that I now have. There will always be people that just plain don’t care about your situation, but I bet they don’t want to deal with a life or death situation on a plane either. Glad you wrote this. I do think airlines should be more allergy conscious. How hard would it be to offer passengers the option to call ahead and make allergy arrangements prior to the flight? What about having a pet free/safe section in the plane? Good article and point made!

  • Lorene Alba, AE-C moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo,

    Thank you for sharing your flying experience. Kudos to the airline for ensuring all of the nuts were collected. As a pet lover I don’t want pets in the cargo area, but there needs to be accommodations for those with allergies that can be life threatening.

    Lorene, moderator

  • Shellzoo
    5 months ago

    Oh, I agree. I am very allergic to dogs myself. I think the airlines could easily reserve seats either in the front or back of the plane so we know where to sit. Also allowing people with special needs including severe allergies to board early. There are so many things that can easily be done to accommodate people with severe allergies/asthma. Sometimes I think because asthma is rather invisible when we are healthy, people have no idea how bad it can get. I have been on a plane with a medical emergency and had to help. Helping people having a medical emergency on a plane is definitely not ideal.

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