Why asthma doesn't make sense (not to me, or to mostly anybody)

Last updated: August 2017

One of the fascinating—and sometimes frustrating!—things about asthma is that no two people are the same. Asthma is kind of like a snowflake that way. Not only do we vary in terms of age of onset, severity, and what medications we respond best to, but the whole trigger thing in general is enough to make asthma beyond confusing to people without asthma.

I have almost no allergies. I’m allergic to dust mites, which, who isn’t, really? I have friends with random allergies to maybe two or three things, and then friends with lists of allergies that would be as long as their arm. Yet, somehow, we all have asthma.

Some people have no issues in the winter weather with their asthma—I am not one of them. For some super-allergic people who aren’t sensitive to cold air though? Winter for them is probably like my Fall. For me, Fall is typically great for my asthma. I’m having one of the best bouts of control I think I have ever had. I still use my rescue inhaler once or twice a week, and I probably have symptoms more than I really acknowledge, but the fact that I have to really think about it is a good sign things are going well.

For me, I imagine that what I experience in Fall is what someone with significant allergies might experience in winter, if they’re not sensitive to cold air, or don’t live in a place where that’s an issue.

These huge variations in what is essentially the same diagnosis—asthma—can make it really difficult for people to get a solid understanding the question of what IS asthma? It’s like being told something is blue, and then every time you see that thing, blue becomes a different color. For us inside the asthma world, phenotyping can be important to help us understand the ins and outs of our asthma. But when you think about it this way, It might make it a bit easier to understand—perhaps—why you have to tell someone more than once that something or other is bad for your asthma. If you’re really reactive to dog dander, but your cousin who has asthma isn't, and your aunt keeps suggesting that they bring Moe the dog over for the next family reunion, it may take a time or twelve to get her to remember that no, you really cannot handle an indoor visit with Moe, even if your cousin was perfectly fine having Moe the dog sleep on his bed.

Yes, there are people who do unfortunately choose to be ignorant about asthma. But we all know that asthma is complicated—at least for awhile, give people the benefit of the doubt. Or remind them, respectfully, if something they say or do is not helpful to you—even if it’s happened a dozen times before. We all know asthma is complicated and confusing—c’mon, you don’t have to tell somebody with asthma that twice, right? This makes being patient with people struggling to get it to click important. Because one day, hopefully, it’ll make sense.

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