The Asthma Stigma
We have all heard someone say those words that are like nails on a chalkboard, "Asthma isn't a serious disease," or "you have asthma so you must be weak." When I used to hear this it would really bother me. I knew asthma was a serious disease and I couldn't understand why others didn't realize it.
Even long before I became a respiratory therapist and really understood the disease on a biological level, it frustrated me to hear people make light of asthma as a whole. Over the years I have seen that asthma is either seen as not serious, or that it makes people weak. I will do my best to help you understand these two common asthma stigmas.
The media problem
The media portrays asthma as a nuisance more than a disease. Have you noticed how in movies and television the asthmatic is almost always portrayed as a weakling? The overweight child who is sucking on his or her inhaler and struggling to keep up with the rest of the kids. I've also seen where on tv a character is having an asthma attack and he or she is told to just calm down and then magically the asthma attack stops and they're totally fine.
While it is true that anxiety can make asthma symptoms worse, once a true asthma exacerbation has started due to inflammation in the lungs, simply "relaxing" won't completely make it stop without medications. And don't even get me started on the lack of proper inhaler technique portrayed by asthmatic characters on tv and in movies. In reality, asthmatics both adults and children should be portrayed like any other strong character. The disease shouldn't define the person.
"It's not THAT serious"
One in twelve people in the United States have asthma or 8% of the population which is increasing every year. This ends up being around 18.9 million adults and 7.1 million children with asthma. 10.5 million school days annually are missed due to asthma. There are two million emergency room visits per year (over 400,000 of those end up being admitted) are due to asthma nationwide.
Approximately 3,400 people die each year from asthma here in the states. That makes 10 asthma deaths per day in the states alone. Asthma is a serious disease that can have deadly outcomes. Thanks to modern medicine and access to healthcare, the mortality rates are much lower in the United States as compared to other countries. (More info can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/pdfs/asthma_facts_program_grantees.pdf).
The worldwide statistics (which can be found at http://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics) are much more staggering. It is estimated that there are 300 million asthmatics worldwide, and 250,000 deaths due to the disease. Almost all of these deaths can be avoidable.
How I internalize asthma stigma
I came to the realization years ago that I had a choice to make when it came to hearing these asthma stigmas. I could either let it get to me and make me frustrated and angry, or I could use the opportunity to educate the people who still believe them. Memorize some of the rough statistics I listed above to be able to pass on to people who really don't know how severe the disease can be.
Also, teaching others that there are different severity levels of asthma and that not all asthma is the same might help people understand better. Asthma is a serious disease and can be deadly, however with the right treatment and medication, it can be managed and an asthmatic can lead a completely normal life.
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