“No Symptoms, No Asthma” and other Dangerous Myths

[avatar user=”dponieman” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”http://www.acppps.org/who-we-are/diego-a-ponieman/”]By: Diego Ponieman, M.D. M.P.H.[/avatar]For a disease that has become so widespread, asthma often is misunderstood, undertreated and, most importantly, underestimated. Make no mistake, uncontrolled asthma can be fatal.

Not surprisingly, in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, northern Manhattan, and north Brooklyn where there is poor air quality and high poverty rates, we also have the highest rate of asthma emergency department visits. Nationwide, asthma accounts for 1.6 million emergency room visits every year.

Left uncontrolled, asthma attacks become more severe and more frequent. With a simple Asthma Action Plan, a good home assessment for identifying the “triggers” that cause an attack, and ensuring the proper control and emergency medications are on hand – asthma sufferers can live life to the fullest.

Your plan to control asthma should include:

  • How to use asthma medicine properly
  • How to avoid asthma triggers
  • How to respond to symptoms and attacks
  • How to manage your child’s asthma during school
  • Visiting your Primary Care Physician regularly

 

“No symptoms, no asthma”

One of the biggest challenges I face as a Primary Care Physician is ensuring that patients take their medicine as prescribed, even when they are not experiencing symptoms. Asthma is a chronic disease that does not just go away.

Too many patients – not to mention parents of asthmatic children – become complacent and neglect to fill their prescription or take their control medicine. This is a big mistake because the most important goal is to prevent the next asthma attack. All too often, patients end up in an emergency room to treat an attack that could have been avoided to begin with.

As Asthma Awareness Month comes to a close, let’s debunk some of the common myths shared by many patients:

  • “Asthma is a psychological disease.” It is not. Asthma attacks are the body’s reaction to certain triggers in the air, causing the airways in the lungs to narrow (bronchospasm). These triggers could include dust, pollution, changes in weather, animal dander, smoke, anxiety and viral illnesses.

 

  • “Asthma sufferers should avoid physical activity.” Not true! Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, whether or not you have asthma. In fact, exercise can make it easier to breathe when climbing stairs and doing other activities. Exercise also helps prevent obesity, which can complicate keeping asthma under control. Talk with your doctor about a good exercise program for you.

 

  • “You can outgrow asthma.” No, asthma is a life-long condition. While it’s not uncommon for symptoms to change over time, become intermittent, or even disappear, there is no cure. Asthma can be retriggered by illness, such as a respiratory virus, or changes in the environment. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to develop asthma as an adult.

 

  • “Asthma medications become less effective over time.” When used as directed by your provider, these drugs remain effective. Those with severe asthma may need daily controller medications to minimize airway inflammation. There is one exception: quick-relief inhalers that are used only when symptoms appear, usually by those with mild asthma, can lose effectiveness if over-used.