ASTHMA MYTHS AND FACTS

Like most diseases, there are many myths and rumours and old wives’ tales surrounding asthma. Some people think that asthma is contagious. Others believe that asthma is a psychological disease and it's just in the mind. Some even think that asthma is not serious and one cannot die of asthma. Here we will clear some of the myths surrounding asthma, based on medical studies and scientific research.

1. Regular use of inhalers are habit-forming and addictive.

Myth:
Regular use of inhalers are habit-forming and addictive.

Fact:
No, inhalers are not habit-forming. Just because you have to take your inhaler medicine daily does not mean that it is addictive. Do you consider brushing your teeth daily habit-forming? Or drinking milk? Or having your daily bath? Well in the same way, using inhalers for your asthma is a good habit which will help you achieve good control over asthma. Thus it is a good habit to be addicted to. See how Shivangi's mother believes that Inhalation therapy has no side effects. However, if you feel that you are taking your Reliever medication a bit too often, it means that you are not taking your Controller medicine correctly. It is best you see your doctor and be guided correctly.

2. Oral medication, i.e. tablets and syrups are better than inhalation therapy.

Myth:
Oral medication, i.e. tablets and syrups are better than inhalation therapy.

Fact:
No, oral medication is not better than inhalation therapy and there is enough research to prove it. In most countries, inhalation therapy has succeeded in replacing oral therapy because it is most effective, the safest and also the most cost efficient way to control asthma.

Many patients in India still believe that taking a medicine orally, i.e. through the mouth, is the right and proven way to treat any disease. However scientific studies show that the best way to take asthma medication is by inhalation. Oral therapy, i.e. tablets and syrups which have to be swallowed, takes time to act as they have to pass from the stomach to the bloodstream and finally to the lungs. Whereas inhalation therapy is quicker because the drug is delivered directly to the place where it is required, i.e, the lungs.

Just as you would put eye drops in the eye if you have an infection, or an ointment on a cut on your skin, similarly inhalation therapy is the short cut that reaches your lungs directly and takes care of the problem.

Besides, in oral therapy, you need a larger dose in milligrams (almost 40 times more than in inhalation therapy) which means greater side effects. In inhalation therapy, the drug is in micrograms and since very little medicine is allowed to reach any other part of the body, you have lesser side effects.

3. Inhalers are more costlier than tablets/syurps

Myth:
Inhalers are more costlier than tablets/syurps

Fact:
No, inhalation therapy is not more expensive than tablets and syrups. In fact, the per day cost of inhalers is actually more cost-effective than tablets/syrups. In India, inhalers are specially priced to be affordable and cost just a few rupees. There are some oral medications that are costlier than inhalers. Besides, the damage caused by tablets is really very expensive in the long run for your health.

4. Inhaled medications/inhalers for asthma have steroids and are thus strong and meant only for severe asthma.

Myth:
Inhaled medications/inhalers for asthma have steroids and are thus strong and meant only for severe asthma.

Fact:

Inhaled medicines are not meant only for severe asthmatics. Asthma is a condition of inflammation (swelling) of the lungs. The best treatment for inflammation of the lungs is steroids, and the most effective way of taking it is through inhalation therapy. When you take inhalation therapy, the steroid medicine goes directly through the lungs and has minimum side effects. Inhalers are not only meant for those with severe asthma. It is recommended even for those with moderate asthma.

See how parents are convinced that inhalation has minimum side effects.

When steroids are taken in tablet form the dose is much higher (one steroid tablet gives up to 40 times the dosage as compared to a puff from a standard steroid inhaler) and most of it is absorbed into the rest of the body, not just your lungs. Usage of steroid tablets regularly for long periods of time can have serious side effects such as brittle bones (osteoporosis), weight gain, bruising easily, diabetes, cataracts, heartburn and indigestion. It can also make you feel depressed, or have mood swings or a fattened face (moon face).

The steroid in your Controller will usually contain a corticosteroid, but it’s safe. Corticosteroids are a copy of the steroids that are produced naturally in our bodies. Thus it is a very safe and effective treatment for asthma. It is important that you understand that these are not the same steroids that are misused by some athletes and body builders. However, not all inhalers contain steroid, some contain a quick relief drug.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may occasionally prescribe steroid tablets. If taken for a short period of time, it will not have damaging effects.

5. Asthma comes and goes. It is not always there.

Myth:
Asthma comes and goes. It is not always there.

Fact:
The symptoms of asthma, i.e. tightness of chest, breathlessness, coughing and wheezing may come and go but asthma is always there. There is a common misconception that asthma comes and goes, and that one should use the medication only when one has the symptoms.

It is important to know that asthma is a chronic (long duration) disease which has to be treated by the patient taking medicines continuously even in the absence of symptoms.

Since the underlying cause of asthma is a swelling in the airways of the lungs, if you stop taking medicines thinking that your symptoms are not present, you would be doing yourself a lot of harm, and when you get an attack, it would take you longer to recover.

6. Asthma can be cured.

Myth:

Asthma can be cured.

Fact:

Much as medical science may have progressed, unfortunately there is no cure for asthma. Not even homeopathy or ayurveda or fish therapy or yoga can cure asthma. However in allopathy, it can be treated so that it is under excellent control. There are so many successful people like film stars, sportspersons and professionals who have asthma but have not let it stop them from achieving what they set out to. So if you have asthma, don’t let it stop you. Total asthma control is possible with regular treatment. Do remember that just because you may not be having a lot of asthma symptoms does not mean that your asthma has gone away. See how mothers around India moved to inhalation after trying out various alternative medicines.

7. You cannot lead a normal life if you have asthma

Myth:
You cannot lead a normal life if you have asthma

Fact:
You can lead an active and healthy life despite your asthma. If you have asthma or your child does, you can rest assured that you will be able to lead as normal a life as possible. If you and your child follow your physician's advice, educate yourselves about asthma, use your inhaled medication correctly as prescribed by the doctor, and avoid your triggers, there is no reason why asthma should get in the way of your dreams, your life. There are many successful men and women - film stars, politicians, business people, doctors, cricketers, even Olympic gold medalists who have asthma and still continue leading normal, active lives.

8. You cannot exercise and play sports if you have asthma.

Myth:
You cannot exercise and play sports if you have asthma.

Fact:
You can exercise and play sports even if you have asthma, but you should take your medicines regularly. Swimming is good for asthma. On the other hand, exercising in dry, cold air may be a trigger for some people. It is important that you take your Controller medicines regularly, as prescribed by your doctor. Some asthmatics benefit by using a Reliever before exercising So always keep your Reliever handy too. Don’t forget to carry extra medication, just in case. Do inform your team members, your friends, your gym instructor or your coach about what they should do in case you have an attack.

The best exercises for asthma are yoga, and sports like swimming and sprinting, since they do not involve continuous running and allow you to have breaks in between. If you are serious about exercise and sports, please consult your Doctor regularly.

Don’t let asthma come in the way of your dreams. It is not a deterrent to being a winner in sports or in life. Top cricketers have asthma, swimmers have asthma, and you will be surprised to know that many Olympic gold medalists have asthma.

9. Complementary and alternative treatments will benefit me in controlling my asthma.

Myth:
Complementary and alternative treatments will benefit me in controlling my asthma.

Fact:
No! Complementary/alternative treatments like homoeopathy, ayurveda, herbal therapy, acupuncture and fish therapy, amongst others will not benefit you in controlling asthma. There is no data that proves their efficacy. Research shows that these treatments have not proven to be of any help in controlling asthma. Besides, there is lack of information about their safety as they bear some risks to patients regarding side effects.

Please note that in an asthma attack complementary medicines cannot help. They are not meant to replace your inhalation treatment. So don’t ever abandon your main medication, even if you decide to try out one of these treatments. First discuss the complementary treatment with your doctor and take his advice before going ahead.

10. Asthma can be caught from another person.

Myth:
Asthma can be caught from another person.

Fact:
No, asthma is not infectious. You cannot catch asthma from anyone else, and no one else at home or at work can get infected by it.

11. A pregnant woman should not take asthma inhalers

Myth:
A pregnant woman should not take asthma inhalers

Fact:
If a child can take an asthma inhaler, a pregnant woman can too. In fact, it is important that a pregnant woman continue with regular asthma inhalers as it will give her the best chance of having a healthy baby. Today’s inhalers are so safe, even mothers who breastfeed can take inhalers without any harm to the child. Since the dose in inhaled medicines is up to 40 times less than that of tablets.

12. The Peak Flow Meter is expensive and difficult to use.

Myth:
The Peak Flow Meter is expensive and difficult to use.

Fact:
Just as you have a BP reading machine to check blood pressure and the Glucometer for diabetics, think of the Peak Flow Meter as the thermometer for asthma. It is a small handy instrument that is affordable, user friendly, easy to maintain and use. It is recommended that you use it twice a week to help keep your asthma under control and to predict and prevent an asthma attack. If you have asthma and are checking your lung function with the Peak Flow Meter and you notice a drop in the reading, it means that your asthma is not well controlled and you are likely to get an attack in the near future or within days. This is like an early warning signal that you need to contact your doctor. If required, the doctor might increase the dosage of your medication. When the Peak Flow Meter reading is normal, it suggests that your asthma is under control.

13. If one's parents do not have history of asthma one cannot have it.

Myth:
If one's parents do not have history of asthma one cannot have it.

Fact:
You could still get asthma if there is a history of allergy in anyone in the family, i.e. not just parents but also siblings, grandparents, immediate family like uncles and aunties. Plus triggers can also cause your asthma attack.

14. You grow out of asthma or asthma gets better as you get older.

Myth:
You grow out of asthma or asthma gets better as you get older.

Fact:

Asthma is a life-long condition. A child's asthma can get better or worse over time and some very young children with asthma may get much better as they (and their lungs) grow, but for most people, asthma is present for the rest of their life.

15. You only have asthma when you have trouble breathing.

Myth: You only have asthma when you have trouble breathing.

Fact:
People with asthma have it all the time. It is a chronic (long term) condition and airway inflammation (swelling) may always be there, yes, even when you are not having a lot of symptoms. Besides, there is increasing medical evidence that if left untreated, the swelling in the airways may cause long-term loss of your lung power. It is important to keep your asthma in control by taking your daily Controller medicines and avoiding asthma triggers

16. An asthma attack comes on suddenly and becomes severe very quickly.

Myth:
An asthma attack comes on suddenly and becomes severe very quickly.

Fact:
Most asthma attacks develop slowly – it normally takes a day or more of feeling unwell, for eg., slight breathlessness or wheezing before the attack occurs. So do pay close attention to the sensations in your chest, learn to recognize your symptoms (tightness in the chest, breathlessness, coughing and wheezing) keep a daily diary of your asthma if required, and restrict your exposure to your triggers.

It is also important that you use the simple handheld Peak Flow Meter to help you predict and prevent an asthma attack. Please remember that just because you may not be having a lot of asthma symptoms does not mean that your asthma has gone away.

17. Inhaled steroids are only for adult patients who have severe asthma and not for children.

Myth:
Inhaled steroids are only for adult patients who have severe asthma and not for children.

Fact:
Inhaled steroids are recommended for both adults and children with persistent asthma. It is also recommended that inhaled steroids be used in children with moderate and severe persistent asthma, but at a lower dose. Besides, when inhaled, the dose is 40 times less than when given in tablets and syrups. And since it reaches the part where it is needed most, i.e. the lungs, the side effects are far less and not harmful.

18. Asthma symptoms are the same for everyone.

Myth:
Asthma symptoms are the same for everyone.

Fact:
Asthma can affect each person differently. One person may show several symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, and fatigue, while someone else may only cough. You should know what your symptoms are so you can get help quickly

19. One cannot die of asthma

Myth:
One cannot die of asthma

Fact:
Unfortunately, yes, one can die of asthma. According to a WHO update, the annual worldwide deaths from asthma have been estimated at 250,000.

Death can occur if the asthma is not diagnosed in the first place. Or if the patient did not have a Reliever near at hand when having an attack.

One of the best ways to identify if a patient is at risk of death is, one who is taking lots of their bronchodilator inhaler (more than ten puffs per day, or requiring two or more inhalers per month), as this shows their asthma is out of control. Anyone who has to visit the hospital for frequent nebulisations is also at risk.

Asthma affects all ages and all strata of society, and while it is fatal, it can in most cases be controlled. Most deaths from asthma are preventable. So please take the management of your asthma or your child's asthma seriously.

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