Asthma’s Multitude of Symptoms Hinders Patient Control of Disease, New Survey Reports

— Respondents’ Condition Impacts Lifestyle and Relationships —

May 16, 2017

Asthma patients suffer from a large number of symptoms that impact many aspects of their quality of life, according to Asthma In America 2017, a newly released national survey of more than 1,000 individuals diagnosed with the condition.

The survey was conducted between February 1 – March 9, 2017, and released through the Health Union online community Asthma.net. It also finds patients deal with a chaotic array of triggers that often make the disease extremely difficult to manage and control.

Asthma is a common disorder of the airways, affecting approximately 25.7 million people in the U.S. and 334 million worldwide. There are many different types of asthma, but the common feature is inflamed, swollen airways which become overly sensitive due to immune system overreaction to a range of triggers, which can include allergens, molds, viruses, or chemicals.

Asthma In America respondents report the number of asthma symptoms to manage can prove exhausting. Survey participants experiencing symptoms in the past year reported an average of eight. The top six symptoms were: difficulty catching breath; chronic cough; wheezing/noisy breathing; shortness of breath during everyday activities; fatigue/tire easily; and chest tightness, pain or pressure. Twenty-two percent cited difficulty catching breath/shortness of breath as their most annoying and frustrating symptom.

“These results clearly show why it’s important to know all of the symptoms of asthma, since different flare-ups can feel different,” said Asthma.net contributor and certified asthma educator (AE-C) Andrea Jensen. “It’s important to know your own body and not be afraid to use your inhaler if needed. Many people feel like they can just ‘tough it out.’ Figuring out how to handle individual asthma symptoms may be frustrating, but it’s essential for proper asthma management.”

Even more exasperating than the number of symptoms is the number of asthma triggers people with asthma face, respondents reported. Almost all surveyed identified triggers for their asthma, with the average number noted being 12. The top triggers cited were all identified by 50 percent or more: respiratory infection (82 percent); smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes (76 percent); outdoor allergens (grass, pollen, mold – 73 percent); cleaning products (70 percent); and extreme weather changes (69 percent). Avoiding many of these triggers is extremely difficult, making it even harder to control asthma. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they wished they knew more about how to avoid triggers at diagnosis.

“Managing triggers can be overwhelming. The first step is to identify what triggers your asthma, which may be different than what triggers my asthma,” said Asthma.net patient contributor Lorene Alba, AE-C.  “I was diagnosed with asthma in college, and in the 20-plus years since that diagnosis, no doctor has ever taken the time to explain triggers and the importance of reducing them. It’s one of the reasons I changed careers and became an asthma educator, so I could provide much needed education on asthma self-management to those living and struggling with asthma.”

Dealing with the plethora of symptoms and triggers is difficult. Managing asthma requires more than just medication – it requires lifestyle changes. Ninety percent of respondents report carrying rescue medications, a lifestyle change they had to adopt once diagnosed. Additional lifestyle changes noted in the survey results include: extra hygiene measures (81 percent), managing allergies (74 percent), avoiding outdoor pollutants (57 percent), and managing indoor air quality (54 percent). Avoiding outdoor air pollutants was reported as the most stressful lifestyle change.

“An asthma diagnosis can really force a change in lifestyle. The world often feels like a maze of triggers we have to navigate on a daily basis. Outdoor triggers can be challenging to avoid; such as smog, smoke from fires, pollen, and much more,” Alba added. “In addition, people with asthma will often stop participating in physical activity and being less active can have negative effects like weight gain or feeling depressed.”

In addition to these changes, asthma also impacts other lifestyle elements. Many respondents reported having to cut back on participating in hobbies and activities. Thirty-one percent said their ability to exercise was extremely negatively impacted by asthma.

The impacts of asthma are certainly not limited to activities and the physical. Asthma can also have a substantial impact on a person’s relationships with others. Eighty percent report asthma negatively affects their social relationships to some extent. In addition, seventy percent said it negatively impacts their relationship with their partner and 62 percent noted it negatively affects their relationship with their child/children.

“Sometimes our loved ones don’t understand what it feels like not to be able to breathe, or understand that asthma is real, and possibly fatal disease,” said Alba.

“The sheer number of issues asthma patients have to deal with illustrates the need for a site like Asthma.net,” said Tim Armand, President and co-founder of Health Union. “The results of this survey also show a general misunderstanding of asthma that can leave patients feeling isolated. Asthma.net offers the latest news and research information to provide hope to the asthma community, as well as a forum to get the support they need.”

A summary infographic of the survey results is also available.

More details about the survey are available upon request; email Insights@health-union.com.