Visible vs Invisible Aspects of Asthma
It’s difficult for those who do not have asthma to grasp what it’s like living with it. I think this is because, while many aspects of our disease are seen (visible), many other aspects of our disease are unseen (invisible). To help those who do not have asthma understand our disease better, here is a list contrasting the visible versus the invisible aspects of asthma.
Invisible vs. visible aspects of asthma
Before we even get to the asthmatic, take in a deep breath. You just inhaled some oxygen. I bet you go most of your days without even thinking about it. Why? Because you cannot see oxygen nor any of the other molecules present in the air. But it’s there, and it’s essential to life. What you also don’t see are tiny particles or substances like pollen or dust mite feces or respiratory viruses, that are way too small to be seen by the naked eye. When you inhale air, you inhale some of these too. And, when you have asthma, these unseen substances can cause or trigger asthma.
You can see me going about my day. I am the asthmatic who tries to live a normal life. You might see me use my controller inhalers in the morning, and then you might see me taking my kids to school, and then you see me working most of the morning.
What you don’t see is a series of chemical reactions occurring inside my body. These chemical reactions normally occur when you inhale a virus, but in my body, they respond to otherwise innocuous substances, like dust mites. These chemical reactions cause airway inflammation, and this causes my airways to squeeze and narrow, making me feel short of breath.
You see me stop working. And then you see me disappear to the bathroom. You see me sitting a lot more than I usually do. You see that I am not very productive the rest of the day. You might even think I’m lazy. You see, you start to judge me.
What you do not see was that, when I went to the bathroom, I used my rescue inhaler. I didn’t want to bother other people, or I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me, so I used it in private. You also don’t see the worry in my head that my asthma might get worse. You also don’t see the frustration in my head that this has to happen now. Because you see, I just want to finish my work, and then go home and enjoy the rest of my day.
If my asthma gets bad enough, you might see me leaning on things to breathe. You might see that my shoulders are hunched. You might see that my lips and fingertips are blue. When I talk, you might observe that I’m talking in short, choppy sentences. These are all signs that I’m having a severe asthma attack and that I might need help.
But, since I take asthma controller medicine every day, I rarely get that bad anymore. My symptoms are usually mild, such as chest tightness and mild shortness of breath. You cannot see either of these symptoms. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, holding me back, keeping me from doing my job.
You may see me slip away again to the bathroom. You may wonder why I continue to disappear when I’m supposed to be working. You may see me approach you, and tell you that I’m having trouble with my asthma. You may hear me explaining what it’s like to have asthma.
What people with asthma want
All we asthmatics ask for is understanding. We want you to understand, that even though we may look normal, that we have a disease that might cause us to need to stop and rest, and maybe even take a day off from time to time. We are not being lazy. We are not making excuses. We are just normal folks trying to make a go of this thing called life with a disease called asthma.
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