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Coughing. Wheezing. Shortness of breath. If you are one of the millions of Americans living with asthma, these symptoms are probably all too familiar to you. Asthma has become more prevalent in recent years as a result of increased environmental triggers, pollution and smoking. The condition affects approximately one in 12 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including both adults and children.

Asthma is a lung condition in which your airways inflame, constrict or fill with excess mucus, which causes uncomfortable symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath and even chest pain. Recognizing the signs and triggers beforehand can reduce asthma attacks so you can continue your daily activities without having asthma-related disruptions.

As a family medicine physician, I hear a lot of misconceptions about asthma. Let’s separate fact from fiction when it comes to these common asthma myths:

Fact or fiction? People with asthma cannot exercise.

Fiction. Research proves that regular physical activity can improve lung function and overall fitness of the asthma patient. Studies have shown that those who participate in certain exercise programs experience less asthma-related symptoms compared to those who do not. Sports and exercise can have a positive influence on asthma symptoms, improve the quality of life and can steadily strengthen the lung. Physical activity will only lead to an asthma attack if the activity is too strenuous or if the asthma is monitored poorly.

Keep your individual level of fitness in mind – it is important to appropriately adjust the use of asthma medication to fit the situation. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Fact or fiction? I can stop my asthma medication after the symptoms subside.

Fiction. There is no cure for asthma. Underlying inflammation is always there, so it’s important to continue medications to avoid exacerbation. In other words, asthma patients should remain on their medications to reduce the potential increase in severity of asthma triggers and symptoms. Again, talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your medication or dosage.

Fact or fiction? Smoking affects asthma.

Fact. Smoking is a serious trigger for asthma patients, including secondhand and thirdhand smoke. When inhaled, tobacco smoke irritates the airways, triggering asthma symptoms, such as coughing, and damages tiny hair-like structures lining the airways called cilia. Once damaged, the cilia is unable to remove dust, mucus and other foreign substances, therefore causing harmful accumulation in the airways, triggering an attack. Cigarette smoke and environmental tobacco smoke should be avoided at all costs to prevent exacerbation.

Fact or fiction? Gluten-free and dairy-free diets can prevent asthma attacks.

Fiction. This has not been proven. I suggest that my patients only avoid foods known to cause allergies for them. Asthma triggers vary from person to person, so be sure to keep track of which foods you are most sensitive to and discuss with an allergist or your primary care provider.

Fact or fiction? People with asthma cannot get flu shots.

Fiction. It is highly encouraged for asthma patients to receive an annual flu vaccine. Asthma can increase the risk of flu-related complications due to influenza further escalating airway inflammation – so get vaccinated!

If you have asthma, ask for the inactivated (killed) flu vaccine shot and not the nasal spray/mist, if possible, and make sure your provider is aware of any egg or latex-related allergies you may have.

Fact or fiction? Pets make asthma worse.

It depends. Similar to food allergies, sensitivity to pet allergens differ from patient to patient. Pet dander, which is skin shed attached to pet fur, is an asthma trigger. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t have pets, just consider a less furry animal or a hypoallergenic pet. To alleviate asthma symptoms, vacuum frequently and bath your pet regularly to control animal dander. A good tip to know – cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.

Dr. Shazia Qamar specializes in family medicine and sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Chicago Road in Warren. 

To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-HenryFord (436-7936) or visit henryford.com. Don’t have a primary care provider? Find one today.

Visit henryfordlivewell.com and subscribe to receive a weekly email with our latest posts on health and wellness – from nutrition and fitness tips to advice on health conditions.

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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