Question of the Week

May 10, 2004


The following post was taken from an asthma message board in the United Kingdom:
"Posted on Monday, February 23, 2004 - 02:20 pm:   
can i have sum help with a prob please?when i have an asthma attack at school (very often) after sport or even just in the classroom sometimes, my friends and da teacher dont notice. i dont know what to do, cos i cant breave, but i dont wanna make a fuss. what do i do? please help, cos sometimes no one notices till ive collapsed, and now im scared?

Here in the United States:
"The current asthma prevalence rate for boys aged 0-17 years (99 per 1,000) was over 30% higher than the rate among girls  (74 per 1,000)."

In a class of 30 students, you could expect to find two or three students who have been diagnosed with asthma.

Who else?

"Celebrities, even historically important persons, suffered or are suffering from Asthma.
Ludwig von Beethoven (composer)
Charles Dickens (author)
Marcel Proust (french novelist)
Edith Wharton (author)
Theodore Roosevelt (26th president of the U.S)
Woodrow Wilson (28th president of the U.S.)
John F.Kennedy (35th president of the U.S)
Elizabeth Taylor (actress)
Alice Cooper (rock singer)
Martin Scoresese (film director)
Dennis Rodman (basketball player)"

Chances are, you know someone with asthma. You may not know that the boy sitting next to you in math has been hospitalized twice and has dealt with asthma for as long as he can remember. You may not know that the girl with the locker next to yours takes medication every morning in order to keep her asthma under control. Or, it may be you.

"Coolio answers your asthma questions:
Q. When did you realize you had asthma?
A. 'When I was a little kid. I don‚t remember not having asthma. Asthma was a stress- induced thing for me. And it was an every day thing. It was something I lived with, but it wasn‚t a big deal. I still played sports, but I would just have attacks and have to be hospitalized every now and then. I knew it wasn‚t normal, but it was normal for me.'
Q. What was it like growing up with asthma?
A. 'It was hard. People in my family would tell me I couldn‚t do things and kids would tease me. When I first started playing sports, coaches didn‚t want to give me a chance. I had to prove myself twice as much to make the team or get to play. I just ignored the kids who teased me.'"

Sometimes, being different can be difficult.

"Because of the restrictions asthma can place on their lives, teens with asthma may feel that they are different from their friends, classmates, and teammates. Some people may feel weird about taking daily medication or using inhalers, spacers (a mouthpiece or mask device that helps make inhalers more effective or easier to use), or peak flow meters (a small handheld device that measures the airflow exhaled from the lungs) in front of others. And if a person's asthma is aggravated by pets such as dogs or cats, he or she might have to turn down invites to visit the homes of friends with those pets. People who play sports might find that asthma causes further aggravation. When asthma flares up, it may mean ending a practice early or pulling out of a game. Sometimes team members with asthma will have to sit on the sidelines for a few days until their symptoms go away and they're feeling better. People react in different ways to the problems that asthma brings to their lives. Some stay away from all physical activities, even those approved by their doctors, because they are worried about having a flare. Others may find that asthma is a convenient excuse to get out of chores or gym class. And some people may deny they have asthma at all and may forget or refuse to take the medications that can control it."

Whatever your position (you have asthma, you have a friend with asthma, or you don't know of anyone with asthma--but it's just never come up in conversation with anyone at school or work), asthma is prevalent. Even if it has not yet touched your life, odds are it will.

So, what is it?

"Asthma is a disease in which the airways become blocked or narrowed. These effects are usually temporary, but they cause shortness of breath, breathing trouble, and other symptoms. If an asthma episode is severe, a person may need emergency treatment to restore normal breathing. More than an estimated 17 million people in the United States have asthma. This health problem is the reason for nearly half a million hospital stays each year."

For asthma illustrations, visit MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia:

Lots of people have asthma. How serious is it, really?

"Asthma accounts for 14 million lost days of school missed annually. Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15 years of age. The number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold from 93 in 1979 to 266 in 1996."

More and more children are dieing from asthma. While some kids and teens are still shy about letting others know--still more have let people know only to end up frustrated.

"...Thanks to letters from my parents and hospital doctors I'm allowed to sit out whenever I want and I don't even have to do PE if I don't feel up to it. The teachers are always asking if I'm ok and they tell me to sit down and have a rest when they notice I'm struggling. I hate them doing that. Ok, so they're probably right, sometimes I should stop but I'm a really competitive person (as I said in my other post) and I can't stand having to sit out. I think I scare them a lot coz I've left so many PE lessons in an ambulance."

Not only do some with asthma struggle to get those in their lives to take their disease seriously, still other asthmatics forget (or choose not) to take it seriously themselves.

More from Coolio:
"'About 12 years ago, I was doing really bad, getting sick all the time. I had lost control of the disease and had an episode. I couldn‚t breathe and passed out in the bathroom. I woke up on the floor, and went outside and ended up pulling myself down the street to the hospital and someone picked me up along the way and gave me a ride. It was pretty scary. After that, I got super serious about taking care of myself and went to see specialists and started taking medication. I‚ve had my asthma under control for the last eight years with no emergency or hospital visits, just regular check ups. I‚m taking my medications. The new medications are really a lot different from what I grew up on. The new generation of meds are amazing and they work. Today, I work out, I rap, I run around on stage, play basketball, swim, snowboard. I do everything.'"

Questions of the Week:
Some people want to be treated differently. Some people don't. What about the asthmatic in your life? What about you?

If you have asthma: What do you need to know and do to help keep it under control? What should your friends, family, coworkers, teachers, and classmates know about your asthma so that they can best help you safely participate in as many activities as possible? What should people (friends, family, coworkers, teachers, classmates, etc.) know about your condition ahead of time, so that they can best help you if you have an episode and are unable to communicate your needs? What do you wish everyone knew about asthma?

If you know somwone with asthma (if you go to school or work, odds are that you know someone with asthma): What do you need to know and do so that you can best help this person safely participate in as many activities as possible? What should you know about asthma (specifically, the condition of the asthmatic in your life) so that you can best help this person if they have an episode and are unable to communicate their immediate needs? What else do you want to know about life with asthma? What else should you know?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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