Coughing. Wheezing. Shortness of breath. If you are one of the millions of Americans living with asthma, these symptoms are probably all too familiar to you. Asthma has become more prevalent in recent years as a result of increased environmental triggers, pollution and smoking. The condition affects approximately one in 12 Americans, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including both adults and children.
Asthma is a lung condition in which your airways inflame, constrict or fill with excess mucus, which causes uncomfortable symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath and even chest pain. Recognizing the signs and triggers beforehand can reduce asthma attacks so you can continue your daily activities without having asthma-related disruptions, according to the American Lung Association.
Shazia Qamar, M.D., a Henry Ford family medicine physician, tackles six of the biggest asthma myths and differentiates between fact and fiction:
Fact or fiction? People with asthma cannot exercise.
Fiction. Research proves that regular physical activity can improve lung function and overall fitness of the asthma patient. Studies have shown that those who participate in certain exercise programs experience less asthma-related symptoms compared to those who do not. Sports and exercise can have a positive influence on asthma symptoms, improve the quality of life and can steadily strengthen the lung. Physical activity will only lead to an asthma attack if the activity is too strenuous or if the asthma is monitored poorly. “Keep your individual level of fitness in mind – it is important to appropriately adjust the use of asthma medication to fit the situation,” notes Dr. Qamar.
Fact or fiction? I can stop my asthma medication after the symptoms subside.
Fiction. There is no cure for asthma. Dr. Qamar states, “Underlying inflammation is always there, so we continue medications to avoid exacerbation.” In other words, asthma patients should remain on their medications to reduce the potential increase in severity of asthma triggers and symptoms.
Fact or fiction? Smoking affects asthma.
Fact. Smoking is a serious trigger for asthma patients, including secondhand and thirdhand smoke. When inhaled, tobacco smoke irritates the airways, triggering asthma symptoms, such as coughing, and damages tiny hair-like structures lining the airways called cilia. Once damaged, the cilia is unable to remove dust, mucus and other foreign substances, therefore causing harmful accumulation in the airways, triggering an attack. Cigarette smoke and environmental tobacco smoke should be avoided at all costs to prevent exacerbation.
Fact or fiction? Gluten-free and dairy-free diets can prevent asthma attacks.
Fiction. This has not been proven. Dr. Qamar suggests to only avoid foods known to cause allergies for you. Asthma triggers vary from patient to patient, so be sure to keep track of which foods you are most sensitive to and discuss with an allergist or your primary care physician.
Fact or fiction? People with asthma cannot get flu shots.
Fiction. It is highly encouraged for asthma patients to receive an annual flu vaccine. Asthma can increase the risk of flu-related complications due to influenza further escalating airway inflammation – so get vaccinated! Dr. Qamar shares two important tips for asthma patients receiving the influenza vaccine: 1) patients should ask for the inactivated (killed) flu vaccine and not the nasal spray/mist 2) before administering the flu shot, physicians should evaluate the asthma patient for egg and latex related allergies.
Fact or fiction? Pets cause asthma.
It depends. Similar to food allergies, sensitivity to pet allergens differ from patient to patient. Pet dander, which is skin shed attached to pet fur, is an asthma trigger. However, Dr. Qamar notes that this does not mean you shouldn’t have pets, just consider a less furry animal or a hypoallergenic pet. To alleviate asthma symptoms, Dr. Qamar suggests vacuuming frequently and bathing your pet regularly to control animal dander. A good tip to know – cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.
Dr. Shazia Qamar specializes in family medicine and sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Chicago Road in Warren.