Is Asthma a Visible or Invisible Disease?

Last updated: June 2020

I have been asked many times if asthma is a visible or invisible disease. The answer is technically both.

Asthma as an invisible disease

In most aspects, asthma is considered an invisible disease. An invisible disease is one where it is not obvious when looking at the person. The visible signs aren’t always there. If your asthma is controlled, people won’t know that you have asthma unless you tell them.

Asthmatics are master compensators. This can be both a blessing and a curse. When my chest feels tight, others can’t see it. Wheezing can sometimes only be heard with a stethoscope. The fatigue and chest soreness that comes along with asthma (especially following a flare-up) is another invisible part of the disease.

Asthmatics are sometimes reluctant to tell others they have the disease due to the fear of not being taken seriously unless they are having a life-threatening severe asthma attack. I will admit that I tried to hide my asthma for a very long time. It was easier to sneak into another room to take my inhaler rather than doing it in front of others and having to explain myself.

When asthma becomes a visible disease

When people think of an asthma attack they tend to think of a dramatic throat and chest clutching gasping for air type situations. While these types of severe attacks can and do happen, it isn’t always the case. 

While asthma would mostly be considered an invisible disease, when it is flaring up it becomes visible. There are aspects of asthma that are very much visible. Coughing for example, is a visible part of asthma. Audible wheezing, increased respiratory rate, and in severe exacerbations, retractions (which are the visible pulling in of muscles around the ribs, collarbone, and neck) are just a few visible aspects of asthma.

Minimizing our disease

The invisible parts of asthma can be incredibly frustrating! How many people have been told by a friend or family member, “You have asthma? You don’t look sick!” I know I have on so many occasions. Having our disease minimized because it doesn’t always outwardly show can be so hurtful. While they don’t say these things to hurt us or be mean or malicious, they just simply don’t understand.

Educate and advocate

People can empathize with what we go through with struggling to breathe but they can never fully understand what it is like unless they have experienced it themselves. This is where education and advocacy comes into play.

Have conversations with your family and friends to explain how asthma works and how it affects you and your daily life. What your asthma symptoms are, both the visible and invisible ones. Advocating for asthma is near and dear to my heart and can really help spread awareness. 

Anyone can be an advocate. It doesn’t mean you have to travel the world or storm Capitol Hill to make a difference. Getting involved in local asthma groups and online will allow your voice to be heard. Your voice can and will help others who are unable to speak for themselves be heard. Advocating helps fight for awareness for asthma and encourages funding and advancement of treatments and hopefully someday, a cure.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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