Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways, commonly associated with recurrent episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, breathlessness and coughing. Symptoms of asthma can be triggered by a number of different environmental, dietary and psychological factors, and can often leave asthmatic’s feeling inadequate, unfit or sickly. Because asthma can vary in severity from person to person, and can change seasonally, it is often difficult to know how to help an asthmatic to feel comfortable in their own home.
Here are a number of things to consider when living or spending time with somebody with asthma, which will help them to feel comfortable, respected and happy.
1. They are endangered by smoking
If you’re a smoker, make sure you ask before lighting up a cigarette in the vicinity of an asthma sufferer. They may not complain, but the fact of the matter is that you are not only damaging their health with second hand smoke, but you may be making it very difficult for them to breathe, or even trigger the onset of an asthma attack. So before lighting up, ask them if they’d prefer that you smoke elsewhere. Even if they only suffer mildly from asthma, ensure you are not blowing smoke directly at them, and that the area is well ventilated, this will help to minimize any health risks.
2. They can get worse because of dust
If you live with somebody who suffers from asthma, dust can be a major risk factor and can impact their breathing significantly. Luckily, it is relatively easy to keep dust from accumulating. Ensure that the house is kept well ventilated; opening a few windows for a while each day will help fresh air to circulate. Vacuuming, sweeping, dusting and mopping regularly is essential to prevent the buildup of dust on floors and surfaces.
3. They can react badly to pets
Often the fur from pets can exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. This is something to keep in mind before buying a pet when you live with an asthma sufferer. If you already have a pet, try to keep your pet well-groomed, and try to keep their fur off beds, sofas and any other furniture that may be used by the asthmatic.
4. They are sensitive to mold
Mold spores can irritate and inflame the airways of anybody, but mold can present enormous difficulties for an asthma sufferer. Keeping mold in check is essential to ensure the health and comfort of an asthma sufferer, so ensure your house is well ventilated and dry. Using anti-mold and mildew sprays can help to tackle mold, but ensure they are not likely to affect asthmatics, or use them only when they are not within the vicinity of the spray.
5. They may have to stay away from pollen from plants
Around 80% of asthmatics also suffer from a pollen allergy. This is something to bear in mind if you are a fan of keeping plants and flowers in your house and garden. Summer can often be a difficult time for asthma sufferers, as the pollen count tends to be higher, and this can exacerbate their symptoms. If you are living with an asthmatic, it is worth visiting your GP for a skin prick test or a blood test, to find out if they also have a pollen allergy. If they do, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops on hand, especially in the summer.
6. They may react badly to perfumes
Some perfumes, deodorants and household sprays can irritate the airways of an asthmatic, making it difficult to breath. This can be particularly problematic when an asthmatic is in the same room as somebody spraying perfume. To ease their problems, it is a good idea to make sure you are not in their vicinity when spraying toiletries or switch to subtle fragrances as opposed to strong ones.
7. They should stay stress-free
Stress has a physiological effect on the immune system. During times of high stress, our immune systems are weakened, as our brains divert more of our internal resources into immediate survival, as opposed to long term wellbeing. During times of high stress, asthmatics can begin to suffer more acutely from shortness of breath, which inevitably increases their general stress level. Often stressful situations are exacerbated by feelings of isolation, leaving the sufferer feeling overwhelmed, lonely, and unable to cope. If you notice severe or acute symptoms that have come on suddenly, this could be due to stress. Offering to help manage their workload, or simply talking to them, can often provide a tremendous relief and help to abate their symptoms.
8. They can be sensitive to certain medications
It is estimated that between 10-20% of adult asthmatics have an increased sensitivity to Aspirin and other painkillers. This can make treating a cough, cold or headache particularly difficult. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (commonly known as NSAIDS) commonly used to treat pain and fever, such as ibuprofen and naproxen are frequently associated with problems for asthma sufferers. It is important to always check the label before buying over-the-counter medications. Doctors should be aware of an asthmatic’s condition based on their medical records, and so will take necessary precautions when writing up a prescription, but if any medication appears to be making asthma symptoms worse, immediately consult your doctor.
9. They have a harder time with coughs and colds
Asthmatics frequently suffer from inflamed airways, this means that coughs and colds can be particularly distressing for asthma sufferers. If you live with somebody with asthma, it can be helpful to gently encourage them to adopt a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, this will help to bolster the immune system against coughs and colds, and provide them with the vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy lifestyle. It’s also important to keep a good stock of cough and cold medicines to ease them through any illness, although be cautious of medicines which can have a negative impact on asthma sufferers.
10. They may have to stay away from foods rich in Sulfites
Around 5-10% of Asthma suffers also suffer from an allergy to Sulfites. Sulfites are a common additive in many different foods and drugs, and can occur naturally in a number of vegetables and some fish. The combination of asthma and sulfites can be life-threatening because it can lead to anaphylactic shock, this is when the entire body reacts severely to the allergen, which can cause airways to swell shut, making it difficult to breathe.
Luckily, there is a test available called a controlled sulfite challenge, which can detect a sulfite allergy. This involves exposing the asthmatic to a small amount of sulfites under close supervision to see if they have a reaction. If you live with an asthmatic who does suffer from a sulfite allergy, always check the labels on foods to ensure that they do not contain sulfites, and always ensure they have an emergency inhaler with them just in case.
11. Their asthma varies in severity from person to person
Always remember that asthma is not a condition which affects everybody in the same way. Some mild asthma sufferers may live active lifestyles, and seem to suffer very little. For others, asthma can severely impact their lives. Do not assume that one person’s needs will be the same as another’s. Respect the limitations and requirements an asthmatic may have, and do not belittle them for this.
12. Their symptoms can change over time
Asthma symptoms do not remain static throughout life. Sometimes symptoms of asthma are barely noticeable, and at other times they can be very debilitating, and very occasionally fatal. The good news however is that symptoms do tend to become less severe with age. It’s also important to remember that although most asthmatics develop asthma before the age of 5, it can also develop in later life. The important thing to remember is that even though symptoms may appear to fade over time, symptoms can return, so it is important to be rather over prepared than under.
13. They often struggle to sleep properly
Asthmatics can often cough, wheeze or feel short of breath when trying to sleep. This can not only make it very hard to sleep, but also mean that sleep is less rejuvenating due to the lower oxygen intake. Not all asthmatics suffer from this, but if they do, it is important for them to speak to a doctor about this so that they can get on a treatment plan. This will not only help them to sleep, but will also help you to sleep without being disturbed by coughing. It is very important that sleeping problems are addressed with asthmatics, as this has been associated with more severe diseases and increased mortality rates.
14. They need to take regular breaks during exercise
This may seem obvious, but it is all too easy to expect an asthmatic to be able to keep up with others during any kind of strenuous activity. Asthmatics can lead active lifestyles, but it is always important to remember that it will most likely take them longer to recover from exercise or labor, and they may need to take frequent breaks in order to recuperate. This may make an asthmatic feel inadequate, so it is important not to make an issue of this, and to let them proceed at their own pace in any physical activity.
15. Their inhalers are not all the same
There are many different types of inhalers available to treat a number of different types of asthma. It is important to remember that not all inhalers are the same, and they do not all perform the same function. Offering the wrong type of inhaler to an asthmatic can be dangerous and may even exacerbate their symptoms.
Altogether, living and spending time with somebody with asthma is not a burdensome task. With a few small changes and some consideration, you can help to keep them happy and healthy. Often asthmatics can feel ashamed of their condition, so it’s important not to draw too much attention to the provisions in place for them, whilst at the same time cultivating an environment of openness, so that if they do seem to be suffering, they know that they can talk to you about it.