It’s All In Your Head

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I came across this article the other day and it made me laugh. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that my asthma is in my head. Some people think that asthma is like anxiety (the symptoms feel real but do not pose any significant risk), some people think I’m just hyperventilating, and some people seem to think that I can actually control my asthma with my emotions. I’m not sure where these ideas come from although I’m sure it’s some combination of wishful thinking, what’s in their best interest, and ignorance.

The entertainment business certainly doesn’t help. Not that long ago I had a conversation with some well meaning woman who genuinely thought I could control my asthma by staying calm because she had seen it on a TV show. Asthma isn’t portrayed often in movies and TV, but when it is, it’s usually not accurate. Take a look at this great list on onebadlung.com.

I’ve also been told this line by many smokers, but I believe that this is their way of making themselves feel better for smoking around me. They aren’t endangering my life if I can turn it on and off right?

This article is interesting because it seems to suggest that the mind does play a role in asthma and I can honestly say I have experienced this myself; my asthma is always worse when I’m anticipating a problem. Two instances come to mind.

1. The dryer vents in my apartment building seem to open up right beside the bedroom windows. They produce a smell that is mildly reminiscent of cigarette smoke. When I first moved in I thought it was smoke from a neighbours balcony and I experienced chest pains. Once I realized what the smell actually was my asthma symptoms decreased significantly.

2. When I have a cold two things happen: I have fewer asthma issues, but when I do have them they are worse.

The article suggests that “[w]hen we expect that an odor is harmful, our bodies react as if that odor is indeed harmful.” Although this is a fascinating concept that I’d love to learn more about, one important thing stands out. This study did not just rely on patient reporting, but actually measured airway inflammation. This means that unlike anxiety, asthma symptoms that feel real ARE real and just because they may have originated in an odd way, they can still be life threatening. My emotions can set off an asthma attack, they can make one worse, but they can not reduce inflammation once it’s started. Try explaining that to someone without asthma!

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2 responses »

  1. I saw that article a few weeks ago, and while I slightly agree it can sometimes be partly mental, and was slightly annoyed at how it came off saying those of us with breathly problems just need to buck up. Anxiety surrounding breathing issues is a very real thing for a very good reason. Just ask anyone who has ever had an asthma attack or been choked. I wish the information had been presented in a sligbtly different manner.

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    • It’s interesting that you say that Ben. When I saw the title I thought it as going to be like that, but I changed my mind after I read it. I really liked how they spoke about how inflammation can last for up to 24 hours and make the person more susceptible to other triggers. They definitely could have made it more clear for the non asthmatic reader though as they might not understand as easily what asthma actually entails. Thanks for reading!

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