It’s a scary thing being diagnosed with a lifelong illness. There is a huge amount of new information to process, medicines to get used to, doctors’ appointments to attend. Some of the new information will come from well-meaning friends eager to help, some are online on swish looking websites, but beware – not all of it is true or necessarily applies to you as an individual. It’s imperative to listen (and take notes if you feel like it) to your medical expert and take time to understand your new normal. Asthma and allergies are chronic conditions, often effecting individuals in different ways and it’s easy to get overwhelmed at first. Here are some myths that you may come across that may worry you. By setting you straight, I hope to make your life a little easier and your diagnosis easier to come to terms with.
Myth 1: I have asthma so I won’t be able to exercise anymore
Absolutely not true. There are many world class athletes and sports people who have asthma and it hasn’t stopped them. David Beckham, one of the best soccer players of all time and Jackie Joyner-Kersee named as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated are just two that come to mind.
Yes, there may be some adjustments to make and it’s really important that your asthma is correctly monitored, but physical activity has been shown to benefit people with asthma and reduce their symptoms. Your doctor will advise you on the correct medication to take to ensure that you can exercise as normal. Exercise has the added bonus of reducing the chances of obesity which is a risk for asthma and can make it more difficult to control.
Myth 2: I have asthma so I can’t get a flu shot
Again, not true. It is very much encouraged for people with asthma to get an annual flu shot as flu can worsen asthma airway inflammation and cause serious complications. The only precautions are to ensure the vaccine is the inactivated type and that you don’t have any allergy to the vaccine.
Myth 3: I can cure my asthma by taking dietary supplements and herbal remedies or changing to a gluten free/dairy free diet
There is no cure for asthma. It can be controlled by medication but no change in diet or herbal remedies can cure it. There is no proof that specific nutrients or specific diets can cure asthma. A well balanced diet to ensure general good health is best.
Myth 4: I can stop my meds when my wheeze and chest tightness are better
I can understand that this is tempting. There are those out there will tell you that they stopped their meds and their asthma never came back. But remember, asthma is a lifelong illness, it has no cure and it affects every person differently. Yes, there are individuals whose asthma improves over time but this may not be you. It is really important to continue on your meds if your doctor says so as there is always underlying inflammation of the airways which can cause an asthma attack at any time.
Myth 5: Asthma meds are addictive and will lose their effectiveness over time
This is complete fiction. Asthma meds are not addictive and don’t lose effectiveness over time. There are generally two categories of meds – quick relief inhalers for when symptoms appear and long term controller meds. Quick relief inhalers may be enough to treat a person with mild asthma but long term controllers will reduce inflammation of the airways for those with more serious asthma. If the quick relief inhaler is no longer effective, it means that the underlying inflammation is not being properly treated and a long term controller is necessary.
Myth 6: I cannot have vaccinations as I have an egg allergy
This is true for a small number of vaccines, for instance Yellow Fever. However, most vaccines are safe to receive. Eggs are used to produce to the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine but the vaccine is generally safe even for those with egg allergy. Your doctor will advise what’s best for you or your child. A flu vaccine without egg proteins is available.
Myth 7: I have a food allergy but eating a little bit won’t hurt
Unfortunately this is absolutely not true. Even a trace of the food allergen has the potential to cause serious reaction and even full blown anaphylaxis. It’s also important to be vigilant about cross-contact from one food to another, as a food you thought was safe may become dangerous for you.
Myth 8: I am allergic to cats and dogs but a hypoallergenic breed won’t cause a problem
As a lover of pets I wish I could say this was true, however there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic pet. Yes, some are less allergenic than others but allergens are found in the saliva, sebaceous glands and perianal glands of cats and dogs so its not just the fur that counts. This doesn’t mean that everyone with asthma and allergies cannot have a pet as sensitivity to pet allergens does differ from person to person. Choosing a less furry animal, vacuuming regularly, washing the pet often and having rules about no pets in bedrooms may be the answer for some people. Cat allergies are twice as common as allergies to dogs so choose wisely!
Myth 9: I have a food allergy and it’s going to get worse and worse
Allergic reactions to food are very unpredictable – it’s possible to have a severe reaction on one occasion and yet have a mild reaction to the same allergen at a later date. The converse may also be true. It’s always best to be safe and carry your meds just in case. Also, remember its perfectly possible to develop a food allergy to a food you have previously eaten many times and had caused no reaction whatsoever. On the up side, it’s also possible to outgrow a food allergy- a phenomenon more common in children than adults and is more likely to happen with allergies to egg, wheat, soy and milk. This isn’t a reason to lower your guard and leave important meds at home…err on the safe side and assume you may need them. Allergies to peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are harder to outgrow.
Myth 10: Asthma is a psychological illness
This myth may stem from a time a few hundred years ago when this was thought to be true. There are even some horrifying stories of people being committed to lunatic asylums as a result. These days we are 100% certain that asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways caused by an immune response to asthma triggers which include dust mite, pollution, animal dander, cold and viruses. Having said that, stress and emotions can sometimes exacerbate pre-existing asthma.
Nearly three quarters of us turn to the internet when seeking answers to our medical questions and this can be really empowering – or it can be terrifying, misinforming and even dangerous. Your doctor knows you and knows your individual illness so don’t be afraid to double check any ‘facts’ you may be concerned about. Remember, knowledge is power and when you feel powerful and in control of your new condition, you will inevitably feel more comfortable.
Tune in next week for part two, when I’ll clear up some more common myths about asthma and allergies…
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.
Asthma and allergies, allergens, food allergy, egg allergy, hypoallergenic
References and further reading
Fact or Fiction? Busting 6 Myths About Asthma, Henry Ford LiveWell, Click here
Asthma Myths: Fact or Fiction, Click here
Common Myths about Asthma, Everyday Health, Click here
Summer Allergies: Fact Or Fiction? ACAAI, Click here
Defining Allergy Fact From Fiction, ACAAI, Click here
Food Allergy Myths and Misconceptions, FARE, Click here
Related Internal Links