Controlling Severe Asthma

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5 Tips for Explaining Severe Asthma to Others

  • exercising-group-of-women-smiling
    It’s more than “just asthma.”
    Having severe asthma is more than a mere annoyance. It’s an unpredictable condition that can be hard to control and treat, and can even be life threatening. But people who don’t have experience with asthma may not understand just how serious it can be, making it sometimes difficult to work or participate in daily activities and relationships with others. Knowing how to explain severe asthma to those around you can help everyone understand, adjust and cope with your condition.

  • two-friends-talking-at-table
    Explain the difference between asthma and severe asthma.
    While 25 million Americans live with asthma, about 1.25 million of those people have severe asthma. Sometimes those around us simply need a brief lesson on the difference between severe asthma and a milder case. They may think you just need a few puffs on an inhaler and then it’s back to business as usual. You might even hear people say, “It’s just asthma” (or make the mistake of saying this yourself). Explain that while many people with asthma can take medicines to help prevent symptoms, for people with severe asthma, medicine often doesn’t work, and the symptoms are much harder to control.

  • Sad woman with consoling friends
    Tell your friends what it feels like.
    Sometimes your asthma symptoms are just annoying; other times they interfere and interrupt your daily routine. Everyone with severe asthma experiences something different, and you can help others understand what you are going through by talking about how your asthma affects you at different times. For example, if your symptoms sometimes make it difficult to talk, let your friends and family know so they understand you need a little more quiet time than usual. Giving them a heads up can help relieve some of the pressure you may be feeling to jump in and keep up with what’s going on.

  • Friends at lunch
    Share your severe asthma action plan.
    You probably know by now how important it is to treat asthma symptoms right away so they don’t become severe. You may even have a severe asthma action plan to help you and others know what to do in case of an asthma attack. Be sure to share this with co-workers, family and friends, and anyone else who would need to know what to do in case of an emergency. Make a photocopy of your action plan, or take a picture of it with your phone to send to others. This will help them understand the seriousness of the condition and empower them to be supportive and to offer help when you need it.

  • Smiling women talking at gym
    Explain what makes your severe asthma worse.
    Letting others around you know what triggers your severe asthma, and how it can affect you, can help you not only avoid an attack, it can also help them understand your condition from a more concrete perspective (“When I’m out in cold weather too long, it makes me cough and wheeze, and makes my chest hurt.”). It may help them understand when or why you need to take time off work or cancel social engagements. Let them know you have good days and bad days, but avoiding your triggers can help ensure that it’s a much better day.

  • Women friends
    Encourage family, friends, and coworkers to learn more.
    Some people will be open to learning more about severe asthma, and others may not. But it can’t hurt to point them to the proper resources if they seem curious, or if you are having trouble explaining the details yourself. Ask your doctor about credible, simple resources that may be helpful for friends and family. Every relationship is different, and you may feel comfortable giving certain people more detail than others. Tailor your conversations and recommendations to fit the person you are talking to and how open and supportive you feel they will be.

Explaining Severe Asthma | Severe Asthma

About The Author

Susan Fishman is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in consumer and patient education. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, and on numerous other national health, wellness and parenting sites. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling at Georgia State University.
  1. Asthma attack: what to do. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/asthma/Pages/Asthmaattacks.aspx
  2. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/signs
  3. Explaining severe asthma to other people. Asthma UK. https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/severe-asthma/making-life-easier-severe-asthma/explaining-severe-asthma/
  4. What is Asthma? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/
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Last Review Date: 2018 Feb 27
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