Myths, misinformation, misconceptions – whatever the name, the consequences of believing them when it comes to asthma and allergies can range from ignorance to downright dangerous. This is part two of busting some myths for all of you coming to terms with a new diagnosis, whether it’s your own diagnosis or a family member’s. I’m hoping I can make your life a little simpler and your transition a little less stressful by providing you with some truths.
Myth 1: Steroids used in asthma are dangerous and can stunt growth
There is a common misconception that the inhaled steroids used as long term controller meds in asthma are the same as the anabolic steroids that are controversially used by some individuals to build muscle. They are absolutely not.
Research has shown that there may be a slight link between inhaled steroids and growth in children. Clinically this reduction is called ‘insignificant’ and depends on a number of factors ; age when you start taking them, the dose, and how long they are taken.
It is vital to remember that for children who need inhaled steroids the benefits far outweigh the risks ;
- your child will likely need less steroid tablets if their asthma is managed and controlled by low dose inhaled steroids,
- your child is less likely to end up in hospital
- if asthma is poorly controlled, it can cause a stunt in growth
Myth 2: Asthma is a condition of modern times
Yes, there does seem to be a growth in asthma rates in recent times – as much as 28% in the U.S. between 2001 and 2011 – but asthma has in fact been around for centuries. Hippocrates first used the term 2600 years ago and has been known to be linked with environmental triggers and pollen for nearly as long.
Ludwig Van Beethoven had asthma back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The composer may well have been prescribed tobacco smoking as a cure for his condition- or maybe even bloodletting!
Charles Dickens lived with asthma his whole life and used opium to try to relieve his symptoms. However hard it may have made his life, it didn’t stop him writing some of the most famous novels of all time and having 10 children!
John F. Kennedy was diagnosed with asthma yet he still became the youngest president of the United States of all time. His asthma triggers included pet dander and dust mite.
Myth 3: Hay fever is caused mostly by hay and flowers
No, it’s an allergy to pollen that causes hay fever and this pollen tends to be from airborne pollen coming from wind pollinated grass, weed and tree species. The pollen from flowers is usually larger and stickier so isn’t carried so much by the wind but is moved around by the birds and the bees. If scented flowers irritate you, its more likely to be a chemical irritation from the perfume rather than the pollen.
Myth 4: My house has no dust and therefore has no dust mite
If your house is a dust free zone, then good for you but unfortunately it doesn’t mean you have no dust mite. Ordinary household dust normally contains human skin cells, dirt, mold spores and animal dander among other things. And yes, dust mite can be found there too but dust mite love and thrive in humid conditions so their favorite place is your bed – the sheets and mattress where you obligingly keep them warm and moist. Those cuddly toys on your children’s beds are a likely spot too. Also, your preferred armchair or most used couch where, similarly, your body heat and sweat have provided them with an ideal home. You’re welcome, dust mite.
Dusting may be your thing (!) but in order to keep away the dust mite, then regular washing at an appropriate temperature to kill the dust mite and the use of certified pillow and mattress protectors are the way to go. A healthy home is key when avoiding triggers for asthma and allergies and paving the way to your health and wellbeing.
Myth 5: It’s best to wait until I have allergy symptoms before I take my allergy meds
Not necessarily. It’s possible to prevent an allergic reaction by taking certain meds before exposure to the allergen. For example, if you have a seasonal allergy to pollen, then taking a mast cell stabiliser before allergy season can protect your immune system and make your life a whole lot more comfortable.
Myth 6: My friend has a food intolerance which is the same as my allergy to peanuts
A big no to this one. Your friend may have some similar symptoms as you but an intolerance is not an allergy as it does not involve the immune system. Don’t be tempted to eat a small amount of the food you are allergic to just because your friend can do this. A small amount of food may do him/her no harm at all. A small amount of peanut could have catastrophic effects on you.
Myth 7: I have asthma, that means my children will have asthma
This is not a certainty. Yes, it is an indicator that your children may develop it but the cause of asthma is really complex and much of it is as yet not understood. There is a ton of research going on in this area and in the future it may be possible to prevent asthma by gene therapy.
Myth 8: I developed asthma because my home is too clean
I’m delighted for you that you are able to maintain a clean home (!) but the so called hygiene hypothesis is as yet unproven. There have been studies that show that children who grow up on farms and are exposed to lots of different germs have less asthma. The theory proposes that in order for the immune system to develop properly it must be exposed to a variety of germs from an early age. This allows the immune system to differentiate between harmless and harmful substances and not to over-react when it encounters, for example, dust mite. However, it seems that this is only part of a much bigger picture and the causes of asthma and allergies are more complicated than this. The hygiene hypothesis is definitely not an excuse to avoid good hygiene practices – a healthy home helps avoid allergies and asthma attacks.
About 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma and 60 million have allergies. Maybe this is why so many myths about them exist. It’s a little like Chinese whispers played by millions of people- the truth is likely to get lost somewhere along the way. Don’t let yourself get lost in this chain of misinformation, return to the source and consult your medical expert when looking for the facts and in particular your facts, as asthma and allergies effect individuals differently and this difference could be crucial to your health and wellbeing. I hope I’ve managed to clear up some uncertainties for you…live well and be healthy.
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, inhaled steroids, pollen, dust mite, allergen, immune system, healthy home, health and wellbeing
References and further reading
10 Myths About Allergies, Everyday Health, Click here
For Parents of Young Children with Asthma, HSE, Click here
Common concerns about your child’s medicines, Asthma UK, Click here
Asthma and Allergies on the Rise in the U.S., Healthline, Click here
Fact or Fiction: 5 Myths About Dust Mites, AAFA, Click here
10 myths about asthma you need to stop believing, Express UK, Click here
Myths Facts Asthma, Health Utah Gov, Click here
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