Asthma is a lung disorder that causes inflammation in the airways, or bronchial tubes, making it difficult to breathe. This narrowing causes coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and wheezing. It’s estimated that asthma affects 26 million people in the United States. As a physician, I’ve noticed that for such a common disease, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions about the condition. From what you should do if you have asthma to who can get it, here are some of the biggest myths I’ve heard about the disorder and the actual facts.
Myth: People with asthma can’t exercise.
Fact: People with asthma should exercise, under the care and recommendation of their physician. Those with asthma need to strengthen their lungs and live a normal life, and the best way to accomplish both of those is through regular, approved exercise.
Myth: Allergies and asthma aren’t linked.
Fact: If you have asthma, your airways are more likely to be inflamed. Inflamed airways are more susceptible to allergens such as dust, pollen, pet dander and mold. So while allergies do not cause asthma, they can very easily trigger an asthma attack.
Myth: You only need asthma medicine during an asthma attack.
Fact: Like most disorders, asthma has stages of progression. Some people only have mild asthma (called intermittent asthma), and it remains that way for their whole life. These patients will likely only need medication periodically during an attack. For many patients, however, daily long-term medication is required to control the inflammation in their airways and reduce the risk of an asthma attack.
Myth: You can outgrow asthma.
Fact: While asthma is a treatable disease, especially with the knowledge and management options we have available today, it is still a chronic disease and one that you will likely have throughout your entire life. That doesn’t mean that it will alter your lifestyle though and the symptoms will likely get better with age as your lungs get stronger and advances in asthma care become better and better.
Myth: You can get asthma at any age.
Fact: While it’s true that many people are diagnosed as asthmatic later in their lives, it’s likely that asthma was present all along but was mild and undetectable. Because allergens and smoking often exacerbate asthma, mild cases sometimes worsen with age and it’s then that your doctor will be able to diagnose you.
Myth: Asthma medications are dangerous.
Fact: Although this is a persistently-held belief, there is no medical evidence to suggest that long-term use of asthma medication, such as inhaled corticosteroids, cause addiction, stunted growth or any of the other side effects commonly associated with anabolic steroids. Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids are different, and corticosteroids have proven to be a safe and effective way to combat the issues associated with asthma.
If you think that you or someone in your family might have asthma, schedule an appointment with your physician. Getting those symptoms under control will make a world of difference in the quality of life for an asthma sufferer.
Dr. Le is a board-certified Family Medicine physician whose clinical interests include hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, hypothyroid, asthma, women’s health and nutrition. She cares for her patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic.