Myth or Fact? What’s True about Asthma?

Myth or Fact? What’s True about Asthma?

Is your asthma knowledge up-to-date? As researchers continue to find out more about asthma, make sure you know the facts vs. the myths. Here are some of the most common ones.

Myth: Asthma is only caused by airborne allergens like mold, pollen and pet dander. 
Fact: Everyone has different asthma triggers. It’s true that allergies may cause nearly half of asthma attacks, but air-borne allergens only play a role in some of them. Exercise, breathing cold air, cigarette smoke and paint fumes are well-known triggers. Nasal and lung infections that clog airways with mucus are culprits, too.   

Myth: It’s simple to diagnose asthma in children. 
Fact: It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under age five. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises doctors to ask a focused set of questions:

  • Does your child cough a lot?
  • Are their breathing problems worse after exercise? During a cold or other illness?

Difficulty breathing and speaking, chest tightness and wheezing are other signs. Be sure to tell the doctor if anyone in the family has asthma, allergies or other breathing problems.  

Asthma can be confused with infections and breathing illnesses. A breathing test using a spirometer is a reliable way to know if someone has asthma. The tool measures the amount of air a person is able to breathe in and out. The test may be hard for young children to do, so tell your doctor about any possible symptoms you’ve noticed.

Myth: Asthma is easy to control. 
Fact: Asthma can be controlled, but it isn’t always easy. There are four kinds of asthma: intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent. People who have mild, moderate or severe persistent asthma need daily medication to control swelling of the airways. Patients whose asthma is under control should not have symptoms more than two days per week during waking hours and two nights per month while asleep. Tell your doctor how often you need to use your rescue inhaler for asthma symptoms. 

Myth: Being overweight has nothing to do with asthma. 

Fact: There is a strong connection between obesity and asthma. Obesity can reduce lung volume and response to asthma medication. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America leaving site icon reveals about 38% of adults with asthma are obese compared to only 26% of adults without asthma.

Myth: The number one sign of asthma is a wheezing sound when someone breathes. 
Fact: Wheezing is only one symptom of asthma. Other signs include coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty talking congestion, trouble breathing after exercising, and recurring bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia. 

Myth: Children with asthma should not join sports teams or play actively. 
Fact: Asthma may call for some change to a child’s activities. Exercise is important, but there should be enough down time to rest. In fact, good fitness levels reduce the burden on lungs during exercise. Being active also helps people stay a healthy weight, which can lessen asthma symptoms. 

Still, children with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan created by their doctor. Shared with the child, parents, school nurse, coaches and others, it keeps everyone in the loop by outlining the child’s asthma triggers, symptoms and proper care. 

Myth: Children outgrow asthma. 
Fact: Asthma never really goes away.  As children’s lungs grow and develop, some are able to better fend off triggers and symptoms. About half of children who had asthma between ages two and 10 notice a drop in symptoms as they grow. Still, asthma may come back when they reach their 30s or if new triggers develop. 

Myth: The best way to control asthma is with a rescue inhaler. 
Fact: There are many ways to treat asthma, but using a rescue inhaler more than twice a week means your asthma is not well-controlled. Talk with your doctor about daily controller drugs, ways to avoid triggers, and other steps to keep your child’s asthma under control. 

Myth: Asthma can be cured. 
Fact: There is no cure for asthma. It is a life-long health issue. With proper care, treatment and training, the disease can be managed. Understanding its triggers and learning how to avoid or control them are critical to keeping it under control. 

Nearly 26 million Americans leaving site icon have asthma. It affects people across all ethnic and racial groups, in all parts of the country. It is one of the country’s most expensive and most common health problems. 

Sources: Health Conditions that Trigger Asthma, leaving site icon (2019), Asthma Facts and Figures, leaving site icon (2022) Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 2019; Asthma Triggers and Management, leaving site icon American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2020

Originally published 6/20/2016; Revised 2023