Is Your Asthma Causing You Embarrassment?

Psychological Effects of Asthma

Woman using an asthma inhaler. Credit: Glow Wellness / Getty Images

Asthma can take a psychological as well as a physical toll on a person's life. It can even cause embarrassment at times.

Psychological Effects of Asthma

Factors that contribute to the psychological effects of asthma include:

  • the severity of the illness
  • the extent to which activities are limited or curtailed by the disease
  • the quality of social and family support available
  • the age at which the disease began
  • the person's knowledge about the illness
  • the sufferer's coping style, skills and overall personality

Each person's experience with asthma is unique, but feelings of social stigma or embarrassment due to the disease are commonly experienced by many asthma sufferers. This is particularly true for children and especially adolescents, who may already be struggling with a lack of self-confidence.

For most people, it is uncomfortable to have feelings of being different from other family members, friends, classmates or colleagues. In social situations, people with asthma may feel self-conscious about using an inhaler or having to be careful to avoid triggers that can set off an asthma attack.

The desire to fit in can lead people with asthma to ignore their disease or fail to take care of it properly.

Educating Others

One way for people with asthma to feel less anxious is to educate others about it. They can empower themselves by becoming an expert in the illness.

When they share information with family members, friends, fellow students and co-workers, everyone benefits and becomes more understanding about what it's like to live with asthma.

Parents can help an asthmatic child avoid embarrassment by asking the school teacher and/or counselor to support and encourage the child.

Having a school nurse, teacher or outside educator talk to the students in the class about asthma can also be quite helpful. The more informed the children are about the illness, the less likely they will be to tease a child with asthma.

Avoiding Asthma Triggers

By avoiding the environmental triggers that can cause an asthma attack, people with asthma can limit potentially embarrassing flare-ups. Some common triggers are dust mites, animal dander, perfumes, chalk dust, tobacco smoke, and cleaning products or other chemicals. Additional triggers, such as pollen in the spring and cold weather in the winter, can pose problems during different seasons of the year. Wet leaves, holiday decorations, high indoor humidity and wood-burning fireplaces are also all potential triggers.

Strategies to Fight the Embarrassment of Asthma

There isn't one specific way to cope with the embarrassment or other emotions that living with asthma can cause, but there are several strategies that can help:

  • Acknowledge and accept feelings. Whatever feelings asthma brings up, face them head on. Pretending won't make the feelings go away; it just makes them more difficult to address and harder to cope with. Encourage children to talk about their feelings and label their emotions.
  • Practice good self-care. Learn about asthma and how to stay as healthy as possible. Ask questions, read and make lifestyle changes that will help keep your asthma under control. Not only will the asthma itself get better, but you'll feel a greater sense of control.
  • Ask for help. Instead of feeling isolated and embarrassed, reach out to others. Most people are more than willing to offer support. In addition, research has shown that people living with a chronic illness such as asthma who have formed an extended social network do much better than those who withdraw from social activities.
  • Practice relaxation exercises or meditation. These techniques have been shown to reduce asthma-related stress and anxiety. In some cases, they can actually reduce the physical symptoms of asthma. If social situations cause anxiety, for example, meditate for 20 minutes before going out.
  • Find a trusted healthcare provider. A healthcare provider who is easy to talk with, who understands and who has time to answer questions and explain things can be a great help. This trusted healthcare provider should be able to address all of the challenges, both psychological and physical, for a person living with asthma.

Sources:

"All About Asthma: Emotional and Social Effects." /The University of Chicago Asthma Center./ 2007. University of Chicago Department of Medicinet. 2 Nov. 2007. 

"Holiday Allergies." /AAFA.org./ 2005. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Editorial Board. 2 Nov 2007. <http://aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&sub=16&cont=51>

Carol Sorgen is a freelance writer in Baltimore, MD who writes frequently on health and wellness issues for such publications as WebMD, Today's Diet & Nutrition, The Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.

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