Asthma Stigma & Stereotype

We’ve all seen it on television or in a movie, the kid with the asthma, the kid who is unfit,  nervous, a bit of a geek or nerd, weak, gets bullied, is overweight and usually wears glasses. That is the image of what asthmatics look like and how we act, reputedly we all have an asthma attack if ever we try to exercise or even if we laugh, it doesn’t matter though because a couple of puffs on our little blue inhaler (usually with a terrible technique) will have us breathing normally again in seconds.

Now I am not saying that asthma is trendy, fashionable or fun, at the end of the day there aren’t any real positives about not breathing very well. I’m not saying that some asthmatics don’t have some of the traits of the stereotypical asthmatic but the majority of us don’t have too many of them. Let’s be honest those asthmatics who are overweight are usually so as a result of the medication they are on, when I was younger I used to play lots of sports, I was fit and active but a combination of getting older,  exercising less (in the main due to my lungs not allowing me to exercise) and years of prednisolone have taken their toll. Admittedly I think that the image of an asthmatic had improved slightly it is still not good. I am not too precious about myself or my condition whereby jokes about asthma offend me, many are funny and I often joke about my asthma myself. I am not always politically correct, many of us aren’t and I do have a sense of humour but for some reasons asthma is a condition that isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. 

People are offended if jokes are told about such conditions as cancer or aids, there is outrage if the stereotypical male aids sufferer is perceived to be gay, camp and sexually promiscuous. The same applies to cancer sufferers, they are not all perceived to be chainsmokers. Obviously the 2 conditions that I have mentioned could be as a result of some of the stereotypical actions but as we all know it is not always the case. They are 2 terrible diseases and they effect lots of people and yes we need to have a sense of humour about things but in moderation and without becoming bad taste.

Asthma is a killer but the image given is that it isn’t, it is something we get because we are unfit or weak,  we have panic attacks but it is ok because that little blue inhaler solves all the problems.

I sometimes think that the reputation that asthma gets in the media, television and films does a lot of harm, some people don’t want to be laughed at or bullied because they are asthmatic, they don’t want to be classed as that stereotyped asthmatic and there is no wonder. Obviously thus more of a problem for kids than adults but even in adult life there is a lot stigma about the condition, a lack of real understanding and because of that employers and work colleagues don’t always appreciate the issues. I know that asthma is not alone in this but it is very much towards the top end of the scale. I am not saying that I am proud to be asthmatic but why should I be ashamed of a condition that I suffer from through no fault of my own?

Let’s be honest the perceptions of asthma and asthmatics aren’t just incorrect in the media etc but also with medical professionals who are often ignorant to the fact that because I don’t display the usual symptoms such as wheeze then I aren’t having an asthma attack, I’m often told to calm down, to breathe and asked whether I am sure that it’s asthma and not a panic attack. If medical professionals don’t understand things how is the average person in the street?

I know that we can’t educate the whole country / planet about our condition but I jest feel that us asthmatics get a bad press. The only positive press that we get often creates even more negativity in a round about way. We’ve all seen the headlines in the newspapers and online such as the one below: 

Does this headline actually help?

Now obviously this looks like good press for asthmatics, somebody who is admired globally and reached the top of his profession, that’s great it shows that we aren’t all the stereotypical asthmatics, the trouble is with this headline and story is that the public actaully start to think that asthma is not so serious. Don’t get me wrong what the likes of David Beckham, Paula Radcliffe, Paul Scholes, Ian Botham and Mark Spitz have achieved, they all became top sports stars despite having asthma is amazing. I also understand that these stories and articles are done with good intentions, however the trouble is that as most of us know, asthma comes in many forms, sometimes asthma can be improved by exercise and basic medication, for many of us it is not. Due in part to the headlines like the one above I have had the following comments (some of which were so ill informed makes you laugh).

“So how come Paula Radcliffe is asthmatic yet she can run a marathon yet you can’t even manage to do a desk job half the time?”

“So you can’t even leave the house in cold weather yet Beckham can run about in sub zero temperatures for 90 minutes!”

“You are overweight and blame asthma, look at Bechham, he has a great physique!”

“They only need a little blue inhaler, why don’t you?”

“You say that steroids are causing you to gain weight, yet Ben Johnson took them and it made him run faster”

Then of course just to add to the negativity regards asthma we get all the claims that many top sports stars are are taking asthma medication to improve performance!

Sometimes I honestly wish that my condition was called something different to severe asthma, people only hear the word asthma and instantly trivialise my condition and ignore the word severe!


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