Today is World Asthma Day. Asthma affects lots of us in the UK and around the world but how many of us know the real facts about asthma from the fake ones?
Our BiBBS research fellow Noortje helps us get to the bottom of things:
More than 1800 years ago, a Greek doctor first described asthma1:
“If from running, gymnastic exercises or from any other work, the breathing becomes difficult, it is called asthma”
Today, we still describe difficulty with breathing as the most important symptom of asthma, especially if there is a whistling sound while breathing, called ‘wheeze’.
We agree on the symptoms of asthma, and we know about risk factors for asthma, such as being born with a low birth weight, having parents with asthma and being in a home where people smoke tobacco. But after all this time we still do not know exactly how asthma develops in children. And when there is so much we do not know, it is hard to separate real and fake asthma facts.
FAKE FACT 1. WE CAN CURE ASTHMA
At the moment, it is not possible to cure asthma. Throughout history, people have tried all sorts of asthma medications, from drinking owl’s blood to chicken soup, regular haircuts and special asthma cigarettes2. Nowadays, inhalers and other medication help with asthma symptoms, but they do not take the condition away. There is little scientific evidence that alternative treatments such as acupuncture, herbal medicine or vitamins relieve asthma symptoms, and they definitely do not cure asthma.
FAKE FACT 2. CHILDREN OUTGROW ASTHMA
In young children it is difficult to diagnose asthma, because it may not be possible to do a lung test at this age, and when babies or toddlers have infections like a common cold they might struggle with their breathing, similar to asthma. For these children, symptoms may go away completely as they grow up. For others, the symptoms may not be as bad when they get older, because their airways get bigger as they grow up3. But for children who regularly have asthma symptoms, it is unlikely that their asthma completely disappears. That’s why we consider it to be a chronic disease. Luckily many people learn to control their asthma with medication, so that they do not have to see the doctor much.
FAKE FACT 3. EXERCISE IS NOT GOOD FOR CHILDREN WITH ASTHMA
Asthma should not stop children from being active; exercise is good for them too! Children with asthma may need to carry an inhaler with them in case their exercise triggers an asthma attack, but exercise does not make asthma worse.4 In fact, many athletes have asthma. David Beckham is one of them.
FAKE FACT 4. IT IS BETTER TO LIVE IN A HOT COUNTRY IF YOU HAVE ASTHMA
Children with asthma do not have to move to France, Spain or the Sahara desert! Asthma symptoms may decrease in hot and dry climates, but every country has its own allergens; the substances that can trigger asthma attacks.3 We do know that children born in English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Australia or the United States are more likely to develop asthma than in a lot of other countries, and researchers are trying to figure out why.
A nice website was developed in the United States to explain asthma to children and their parents and teachers, using easy language. There are games and videos with Buster, a rabbit suffering from asthma. And children can do this quiz to test how much they know about asthma:
You can read more about real asthma facts from our Born in Bradford research here.
Thank you for reading our blog; we hope you remember the real facts so you can share these on World Asthma Day on the 2nd of May!