Asthma For Dummies
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At least 330 million people in the world have asthma, which is a life-long lung disease characterized by respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Although there is no cure for asthma, it can be well managed and controlled with new and innovative medications and treatments. You and your doctor can design a step-by-step plan for living with your condition and preventing asthma attacks.

Myths and misconceptions about asthma and allergies

The following ideas are myths and misinformation that you may often hear about asthma and allergies. This listing isn’t a true-or-false test — all these statements are incorrect!

Myth: Moving to Arizona will cure my asthma and allergies.

Truth: Asthma and allergies can occur throughout the United States, especially due to the spread of non-native pollinating plants around the country, such as mulberry trees that were planted in Arizona, which produce large amounts of pollen that are airborne in the windy dry weather of the Southwest.

Myth: A cat or dog with short hair is safer for my asthma than a long-haired pet.

Truth: A majority of the allergens (proteins that cause allergy) that cats and dogs spread is in their dander (skin cells shed by the animals), saliva, and urine, whereas the pet’s hair itself is not allergenic.

Myth: Asthma is contagious.

Truth: Asthma is not infectious or contagious and is not caused by a virus or bacteria, so don’t worry about catching asthma from someone who has the condition.

Myth: I can’t exercise because I have asthma.

Truth: People with well-controlled asthma can exercise and participate in all types of athletic activities. In fact, regular physical activity is essential for managing your health and can improve airway function by strengthening breathing muscles.

Myth: I just have a recurring chest cold; I don’t need to check for asthma.

Truth: Recurrent cold symptoms such as coughing and wheezing may in fact be a presentation of asthma and should be evaluated by a physician.

Myth: My children don’t need to be evaluated or treated for asthma because they’ll outgrow it.

Truth: Asthma is a life-long disease. Some people’s symptoms might improve as they mature but may return later in life.

Myth: My asthma is all in my head.

Truth: Asthma is not a psychological condition. It’s a serious lung disease that needs to be evaluated and treated appropriately. However, strong emotions, such as stress, or reactions to feelings, such crying or even laughing, can cause respiratory symptoms in patients with asthma.

Myth: The only medication I’ll ever need for my asthma is a quick-relief rescue inhaler such as albuterol or Ventolin.

Truth: There is very strong evidence that repeated use of short-acting beta2-adrenergic (beta2-agonist) bronchodilators (SABAs) alone makes asthma worse because the underlying airway inflammation is not being addressed. In fact, newer rescue inhalers are combinations of albuterol (SABA) and budesonide (inhaled corticosteroid).

Myth: I get stomach cramps and diarrhea every time I drink milk, so I must be allergic to it.

Truth: Milk allergy is caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in milk, in contrast with lactose intolerance, which is an adverse digestive reaction to the sugar found in milk.

Myth: Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is just a minor annoyance and won’t cause any serious problems.

Truth: Allergic rhinitis commonly can lead to complications including nasal polyps, sinusitis, ear infections, and worsening of asthma.

Myth: I can take as many over-the-counter (OTC) medications as I want because if I don’t need a prescription for them, these products probably don’t cause any side effects. Besides, my doctor didn’t prescribe them, so it’s none of their business if I’m taking OTC medications.

Truth: Just because a medication is OTC doesn’t mean it can be taken without any concern. For example, aspirin has been known to cause severe systemic reactions, requiring emergency care in some individuals. Inform your physician of all medications you are taking, whether prescription, OTC, or supplements because of possible adverse reactions between those products and medications your physician might prescribe.

Myth: I should stop taking all my allergy and asthma medications while I’m pregnant.

Truth: Asthma symptoms worsen in approximately one-third of pregnant people. Fortunately, most asthma medications are safe to use during pregnancy. If your asthma is well controlled, there is very little risk for you or your baby; therefore, you should continue to take your prescribed asthma treatments during your pregnancy.

Myth: I’ll try to drop by my doctor’s office for allergy shots when it’s convenient for me. I don’t need to stick to a regular schedule for immunotherapy.

Truth: Allergy shots (immunotherapy) must be given once or twice a week during the buildup period to achieve the optimal maintenance dose. Once this maintenance dose is reached, the shots can gradually be given less often. However, for the treatment to be effective, patients need to stick to the prescribed immunotherapy schedule.

Myth: I don’t need to check with my doctor. I can just give my child half an adult dose of my asthma or allergy medication.

Truth: For most adults, medications are given as fixed doses. However, because pediatric doses are based on children’s age and weight, giving half an adult dose is not prudent or safe because children come in all ages and sizes.

Myth: Nothing’s going to happen during the flight, so I don’t need to pack my asthma and allergy medications in my carry-on bag.

Truth: Asthma and allergy attacks can occur on planes, which are considered high-risk locations because of the limitations of space and available therapy. Therefore, it is essential that you have access to your medications during the flight by keeping them in your carry-on bag.

Myth: It’s okay to figure out how to use an epinephrine kit (for example, EpiPen) when I need it.

Truth: Anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction) is a medical emergency that requires quick and appropriate treatment. Therefore, the quicker epinephrine is administered, the better the outcome. For this reason, you should be familiar with and be prepared to use your epinephrine kit whenever needed.

Myth: I can’t do much to improve my asthma, so I’ll have to settle for less and just live with my condition.

Truth: With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with asthma can lead normal and active lives. Effective management of your condition is vital, which means seeing your doctor on a regular basis and sticking with the treatment plan that has been designed specifically for you.

Common problems among asthma patients

Asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can affect you in several ways:

  • Airways of the lungs: Asthma, food hypersensitivities, and anaphylaxis (a widespread, potentially life-threatening reaction that affects many organs simultaneously)
  • Eyes: Allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
  • Ears: Otitis media, an inflammation of the middle ear, often leading to an ear infection — a frequent complication of allergic rhinitis
  • Gastrointestinal tract: Food hypersensitivities and anaphylaxis
  • Nose: Allergic rhinitis, which is the medical term for hay fever
  • Sinus: Sinusitis, inflammation of the sinuses — a frequent complication of allergic rhinitis
  • Throat: Allergic rhinitis and/or pharyngitis (a complication of postnasal drip associated with allergic rhinitis) and food hypersensitivities

Top 10 common asthma triggers

  1. Animal dander — especially from cats and dogs
  2. Dust mites
  3. Mold spores and pollens from certain grasses, weeds, and trees
  4. Exercise
  5. Tobacco smoke
  6. Air pollution and weather changes
  7. Occupational irritants and allergens
  8. Other ailments, including rhinitis, sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and viral infections
  9. Household products
  10. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

William E. Berger, MD, MBA, has over 40 years of clinical experience diagnosing and treating patients with allergies and asthma. He founded the Allergy & Asthma Associates of Southern California, where he practiced both adult and pediatric allergy and immunology. Tonya A. Winders, MBA, is the president of the Global Allergy & Airways Patient Platform and former CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network. She has 15 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

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