Debunking the Childhood Asthma Myths

I’m overly fond of statistics when it comes to asthma, partly because my own experiences with my kid don’t mean much outside the larger context. But in all the data I post, the numbers that catch my attention most are the ones on patient/parent asthma knowledge and uncontrolled asthma in children.

We all know education is key to understanding and treating asthma, right? But we also all know the Internet can hurt as much as it helps. Lots of misinformation circulates, that’s no surprise. It’s shockingly easy to stumble upon pages for “asthma cures” or parent messageboards full of posters expecting their kids to “grow out” of asthma. It’s natural to hope for that, and I used to when AG was younger, too. Asthma is such a complex condition with a dizzying array of symptoms and it’s monstrously difficult to get under control in little kids sometimes. Plus, it’s freaking scary to imagine your child living with an incurable condition for the rest of her life, even if asthma is one of the most treatable chronic conditions around and even if your child has one of the milder cases.

But coming to terms with childhood asthma, understanding its true nature, and not perpetuating any assumptions about its departure can save months and even years of undertreatment and worry. That’s what they tell me, anyway, because I certainly bought into some of the hopeful myths when AG was little and flaring all the time.

In the spirit of asthma education and puncturing the balloon of faulty information, then, let’s talk about some of the more common childhood asthma myths.

MYTH: Kids outgrow asthma.

Asthma has a physiological component and involves the immune system, not just the lungs. A child with a hyper-reactive immune response will always have that tendency. There is no cure. It is true that lots of children (though not all) flare less frequently and use their inhalers less often as they get older, but true asthmatics will always remain susceptible to flares. It’s also true that childhood asthma often improves around the time puberty sets in, only to worsen again as those kids reach their mid-20’s. For most people, though, child-onset asthma is much worse during the younger years than any other time.

Some temporary conditions, like respiratory syntactical virus (RSV), carry long-term effects that mimic asthma for a few years before disappearing forever. True asthma never disappears.

MYTH: Yoga/The Buteyko Method/Swimming/Herbs/Etc. will cure asthma.

Even conventional asthma medicine only treats the symptoms of asthma – the bronchospasms, lung inflammation, and the flare-inducing allergic response. No existing method, medicine, or exercise in traditional or complementary medicine can turn off that switch responsible for excess inflammation. Having said that, various medical and non-medical treatments and overall good health can improve quality of life for asthmatics. Yoga, for example, may help train lungs into healthier breathing patterns, and I firmly believe swimming from a very young age (though not in indoor pools) helped my daughter. But reduction in symptoms is not a cure.

MYTH: Treating children flare-by-flare is healthier than making them take preventative steroids.

For persistent asthma, the benefits of inhaled corticosteroids more than outweigh the (minimal) risks. Children not on maintenance meds run the risk of perpetual lung inflammation and under-treated flares. Possible long-term side effects of those? Pulmonary scar tissue build-up that keeps bronchodilators from working properly when those kids are adults, airway remodeling, and more severe asthma that lasts a lifetime.

MYTH: Letting kids with asthma “work through” flares on their own without medication will teach their lungs to overcome them naturally.

No. Just no.

The body cannot “learn” not to have asthma, and denying a child emergency meds constitutes neglect in my book. An untreated asthmatic child who’s never ended up in respiratory distress is lucky, not improved. The worst scenario bears repeating: frequent, un/under-treated flares and lung inflammation can make a child’s case of asthma much worse, forever.

MYTH: A child that doesn’t wheeze can’t possibly have asthma.

Coughing, not wheezing, is the number-one asthma symptom. My 9 year-old asthmatic racked up pages and pages of doctor and hospital records when she was younger. She’s been on oral meds, a nebulizer, or an inhaler since she was 10 months-old and been hospitalized for her breathing problems. I’ve never heard her wheeze. Not once.

MYTH: Children with asthma can’t play sports or run around very much.

Asthma kids can do anything they want, as long as they’re being treated for their symptoms.

Got any asthma myths of your own to debunk?

The information in this post stems from too much reading over the years to list here. Check the left sidebar for Asthma Resources like the American Lung Association, where you can learn more.

9 responses to “Debunking the Childhood Asthma Myths”

  1. GeorgeandWheezie says:

    Thanks for posting these. It’s so important for people to see them. Asthma is so misunderstood. People are so quick to dismiss asthma as just a thing that means your kid needs to puff an inhaler once in awhile. Or asthmatics are weaklings that can’t do anything. Or my kid doesn’t have symptoms they’ve outgrown it.

    We want to believe it can be outgrown, cured, fought through and beaten. It makes us feel less powerless during the worst of it. That exact denial by me, nearly killed my child once. I couldn’t sleep for months. And my kid isn’t one of those serious cases.

    I know that you frequently mention these facts in other posts and I am glad that you keep this information at the forefront.

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    Brava! Asthma Mom! Brava!

    My favorite myth is that all asthmatics have allergies. Having to explain that I do not have allergies makes people suspect that I don’t have “real” asthma…. that I’m reacting on emotion to smells around me… “You just don’t like perfume” or “You people just have issues with smokers”. Grrr.

    Oddly, the search I get the most… at least 3-5 per day is that chihuahuas cure asthma or prevent wheezing or take away allergies. I didn’t even know it was a myth. Then I got a few searches and actually posted about it, now I get constant search hits on it. Unbelievable.

  3. Amy says:

    GandW,
    That denial factor is a kicker, isn’t it? I have yet to meet an asthma parent without a similar story—and maybe that will be a sign of true progress, when asthma is so well understood and publicized that parents will know how to deal with it from the very beginning.

    Asthmagirl,
    That’s a GREAT one–wish I had thought of it, and as you know, I run into the exact same thing with AG. When spring approaches, people ask if she’s okay and I always answer—oh, she’s fine. Now her sister? The one without asthma? Her nose will run all season long, lol.

    And that “real” question always get me, too–especially since intrinsic asthma is harder to treat!

  4. Asthmagirl says:

    Apparently Chihuahuas are the cure for intrinisic asthma. I recommend at least one, maybe two for AG. You’ll have this asthma thing nipped in the bud in no time!

  5. Allie says:

    I remember being stuck out on the front steps in the cold to “cure” my latest asthma attack. It really didn’t help much, and it was really cold out.

  6. Blessedmomof4 says:

    Awesome Post Amy!
    I can totally relate to all the myths. Way to go. All asthma parents will bennefit from reading this list! Way to go!! I know I am still in moderate denial, when Sarah is well, I find myself thinking……maybe it was just a bad virus season!!! UGG! It just makes it easier to deal with. Ok, now that I have another KICK in the pants I need to go and work on switching my insurance so I can get Sarah evaluated by a doc. I feel comfortable with, that I can develop a relationship with. Thanks for giving me that kick!!!! :)

  7. freadom says:

    Excellent post. I think someone should take the words “You do not outgrow asthma” and make it into a bumper sticker. I know child asthmatics who started smoking thinking they outgrew their asthma, only to develop — COPD. Good lesson.

  8. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this post. I actually found this from doing a search on Buteyko and children’s asthma. I know it won’t *cure* my son’s asthma, but has anyone had a luck with reducing symptoms with this method? If so, I would love to hear your experiences. Thank you!

Leave a Reply