Why asthma isn't sexy and it never will be

When I peruse Google Images for asthma, which is more often than most people, probably, I often see this image pop up—I’ve also seen it on t-shirts. I’m not re-posting it here, because “asthma is sexy” is undeserving of any more attention paid to a silhouetted person with an inhaler about an inch from their mouth with this text underneath.

No, asthma is not sexy, and it never will be. I realize it’s “just for fun”, but it does not help us, at all, communicate the realities of this disease. I suppose maybe a few people with asthma might find resonance with this phrase in a way that’s meaningful to them, and not making a mockery of a serious disease, although I still don’t quite get it even in that context.

Point blank, my lungs do not work as they should. I have to take inhalers on a daily basis to help me breathe normally. I have an incurable disease that makes me short of breath, on occasion when I am doing absolutely nothing except I sound like I just ran a half marathon; a disease that has made me cough enough that I’ve thrown up; a disease that costs people or their health systems or insurance companies billions of dollars a year. There’s nothing sexy about the fact that I have a friend who has been on a ventilator from severe asthma more times than I can remember, whose hospitalizations number into the hundreds. Research might be cool, maybe even sexy because it helps people, but I don’t think blood draws and coughing sputum into test tubes is sexy—I don’t think it helps make asthma any sexier, nope. I haven’t had ‘em, but I doubt anybody would describe allergy shots or biologic injections as sexy.

Asthma can be life-threatening. An asthma diagnosis is almost always life changing, even if not majorly for some people, but managing asthma well is almost always life-altering. Asthma is expensive, whether to you personally, your insurance company, or your healthcare system. Some parents of kids with asthma constantly have a nagging thought at the back of their heads wondering if their child is okay, but they push it aside to let their child experience life—some parents, on the other hand, can’t quell those nagging thoughts, and are so worried for their child’s safety they shelter their child with asthma from the world to protect them. Asthma is full of unknowns—things that even the most schooled, most engaged researchers do not yet know about this disease. Asthma as a mystery is still not sexy.

Asthma is just a fact of life for many of us—too many of us. 300 million of us worldwide.1 It’s common, and it does not make us superhuman. We seem to have a polarity thing here: the nerd stereotype that we might be able to blame Lord of the Flies for, and the asthma is sexy connotation. And guess what? You can’t see a person’s lungs from the outside—nor their brain. (Oh, and I’ve heard nerds are cool now, in total contrast the Lord of the Flies thing.)

And while I certainly don’t believe that Justin Timberlake is (or was?) Bringin’ Sexy Back, I’m even more convinced that asthma is not, either.

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