Overview

Compared to mild or moderate asthma, the symptoms of severe asthma are worse and ongoing. People with severe asthma may also be at an increased risk of asthma attacks.

As a friend or loved one of someone with severe asthma, you can offer continued support. At the same time, it’s important to know what not to say to someone with severe asthma.

Here are seven things never to say to someone living with severe asthma.

1. Do you really need to take all those meds with you?

For people with mild to moderate asthma, it’s usually enough to take long-term medications and bring a quick-relief device (such as an inhaler) with them.

With severe asthma though, you might also need to bring a nebulizer to help with difficult-to-control wheezing. People with severe asthma are at a higher risk of an asthma attack. An asthma attack can be life-threatening.

Don’t question your loved one’s reasons for bringing their medications along. Instead, be glad that they are prepared. (As a bonus, ask your loved one about how you can help administer any of their asthma medications, if needed.)

2. I know so-and-so has asthma, and they can exercise. Aren’t you just making excuses?

As there are different types of asthma with varying severities, triggers vary too. Some people may be able to exercise just fine with asthma. Many people with severe asthma can’t exercise. In such cases, using a rescue inhaler beforehand to relax the airways may not be enough.

Your loved one should take walks or do light stretches only if they’re able. Understand that some days are better than others when it comes to exercise capabilities.

People with severe asthma have already discussed exercise with their doctors. This includes knowing their limitations. They may also be going through pulmonary rehabilitation, which helps to increase their ability to exercise in the future.

3. You’ll probably outgrow your asthma someday.

Mild to moderate asthma often improves with time and proper treatment and management. Also, if you have a mild case of allergic asthma, avoiding triggers and taking allergy shots can help decrease the incidence of symptoms.

But it’s a myth that all types of asthma will completely go away. People with severe asthma are less likely to experience some of the “remission” that people with mild asthma might. There’s currently no cure for any form of asthma.

Help your loved one manage their condition. Dismissing the long-term implications of asthma can be dangerous. When left uncontrolled, asthma can cause permanent lung damage.

4. Can’t you just take your inhaler?

Yes, a rescue inhaler can help if sudden symptoms of severe asthma arise. If a friend tells you they can’t be around your dog or that they may not be able to go out during days when the pollen count is high, take them at their word.

One of the best ways to control severe asthma is to avoid triggers. Be understanding of things your loved one needs to avoid. An inhaler is meant for emergencies only.

5. Are you sure you don’t just have a cold?

Some of the symptoms of asthma might be similar to the common cold, such as coughing and wheezing. If your loved one has allergic asthma, then they might experience sneezing and congestion too.

Unlike cold symptoms though, asthma symptoms don’t go away on their own. They also don’t gradually get better on their own, as you experience with a cold.

Suggest that your loved one see their doctor about a treatment plan if their symptoms aren’t improving. It could be they’re experiencing high levels of inflammation and that’s making their symptoms worse.

6. Have you considered “natural” treatments for your asthma?

People with severe asthma need long-term treatment to decrease ongoing inflammation that can make their airways constrict and lead to symptoms.

Scientists are always looking for new or better treatment measures. There’s little evidence to suggest that any herbs or supplements can treat or cure asthma, however.

7. Do you mind if I smoke?

Smoking is bad for anyone, but it’s especially dangerous for people with asthma. And no, stepping outside or keeping a door open won’t help — your loved one will still be exposed to secondhand or even thirdhand smoke. It’s also still on your clothes when you come back from that cigarette break. Be considerate of your loved one and don’t smoke around them.