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Teens Frequently Asked Questions

…about asthma in general

Q: Will I outgrow asthma?

A: Some kids will stop having asthma symptoms as often, and it may seem like they have outgrown it. But it isn't gone, it just isn't active, and could come back at any time. Other kids will have to deal with asthma throughout their lives. The best thing to do is to get all the help you can. Have regular checkups with your doctor or asthma educator to make sure you are getting the right medicines. Keep a positive attitude… with the right treatment, asthma can be something that you rarely have to worry about!

Q: Asthma scares me. Do people really die from it?

A: It is true that people can die from asthma. You may have heard or read about this in the news recently, but it is rare. Asthma is a very serious disease, but there is absolutely no reason for anyone to die from it. Learning about what triggers your asthma, the early warning signs to look for and how to use your medicine the right way will help you keep your asthma under control. Having an asthma attack is a scary thing, but having asthma doesn't have to be scary. Talk to your doctor or asthma educator if you are still worried about a severe asthma attack.

Q: Is there a cure for asthma? I’ve heard or read about people who were cured.

A: There is no cure for asthma, though there is a lot of research being carried out now in the areas of indoor and outdoor pollution, allergies, gene therapy, cell biology and chemistry, just to name a few. The results of this work will help us understand more about why this disease happens, and how we can control it even better.

The people who have claimed to be cured are probably in one of those "quiet times" common in asthma, when there is a lot of time between asthma attacks. They have really not been cured, and their asthma symptoms could come back at any time, especially if they are not taking their asthma medication as they should. Learn how to separate asthma fact and fiction.

Q: Do kids with asthma really need to get a flu shot?

A: Flu shots are safe and should be given to kids with asthma who are over 6 months old. This will help them keep from getting the flu, or keep them from getting really sick from it. Learn more about flu shots.

Q: I've heard that being overweight can cause asthma. Is that true?

A: There have been some studies that have shown a link between obesity and asthma, but there is not enough proof to say that being overweight definitely causes asthma. Find more information on obesity and asthma.

Q: Why do I have to take medicines every day?

A: Knowing what happens in your lungs when you have asthma may help you to understand why you need to keep using medicines every day, even when you aren't having trouble with your asthma. The lining of the airways gets inflamed, or swells, when you have asthma and you come in contact with an asthma trigger – something that makes your asthma worse. The swelling makes the airways smaller which makes it difficult for air to move through the narrowed air passageways. When inflammation happens, extra mucus is made in the lining of the airways. This mucus can be very thick and sticky, and may form into plugs that may completely block some of the airways. In addition, smooth muscle bands surround the airways. When the airways swell, these muscle bands often constrict or clamp down, further narrowing or squeezing the airways. Together, airway swelling, excess mucus, and tightened muscle bands cause airway narrowing and make it hard to breathe.

Your long-term controller medicine is the one that works over a long period of time to help keep the inflammation in your airways down, and stop them from being so twitchy. This means they’re less likely to react when you have a cold or are around one of your triggers (but you should still try to stay away from your triggers). You need to take your controller every day for it to be effective, usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

…about steroids

Q: Will you get big and muscular using a long-term controller steroid medicine?

A: NOPE. The corticosteroids used in your controller medicine are different than the anabolic steroids people use to build large muscles, and work in a different way. The corticosteroids in your inhaler are a lot like those made naturally in your body. When you inhale them, they go down in your airway to get rid of the inflammation that causes asthma symptoms. You only need a small dose of them because they are working directly on your lungs.

Q: Will I gain weight by taking inhaled steroids or steroid tablets?

A: NOPE. Your inhaler contains such a low dose of steroids that it will not make you put on weight. Sometimes steroid tablets can make you feel hungry, and eating more will make you start to gain weight. The tablets themselves don’t make you gain, so eat your normal amounts while you take them and you should be fine.

Q: What about side-effects from inhaled steroids or steroid tablets?

A: Your controller inhaler might make you a little hoarse every now and then, because some of the medicine can stay in your mouth and throat if you don't use a valved-holding chamber or spacer. It's also a good idea to rinse out your mouth with water and spit it out after taking your controller inhaler. At the present time, there are many studies being done on steroids; not only on how they work, but also on the possible side effects from them.

Steroid tablets give you a higher dose of steroids than your controller inhaler. You need this higher dose if your asthma gets really bad. When you only need to take them for a week or so, there are no serious side effects. You might get a little indigestion or heartburn, and if you do, tell your doctor. If your asthma is so serious that you need to be on steroid tablets for months or years, there can be side effects like weight gain, thinning of the bones and skin and increased blood pressure. Before you start long-term treatment with steroid tablets you and your doctor or asthma educator should have a talk about the risks and benefits of this kind of medicine.

Q: Will inhaled steroids or steroid tablets stunt my growth?

A: Most studies say kids grow normally when they take 400 to 800 mcg/day of Beclomethasone (an inhaled steroid) although higher doses may cause some trouble. Long term steroid tablet use shows the most risk for growth problems. Your doctor will keep track of how you're growing carefully while you are on these medications, and may try to step-down this therapy when possible. On the other hand, having your asthma out of control itself can lead to growth problems. At the present time, there are many studies being done on steroids; not only on how they work, but also on the possible side-effects from them. Talk with your doctor or asthma educator about any concerns you have about steroids or other medications.

Q: Am I allowed to use my asthma medicines, including inhaled steroids or steroid tablets, while participating in team sports?

A: Yes, you don't need to worry about that. The tests that are sometimes given to athletes to find out if they use performance enhancing anabolic steroids do not look for corticosteroids, the kind of steroids used to treat asthma. There is no ban on inhaled corticosteroids by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) or the IOC (International Olympic Committee). However, the IOC does require prior notification if the athlete is taking steroids for asthma.

…about sports

Q: I love to play basketball, but how can I get good at sports when I have asthma, and need to take so many breaks to catch my breath?

A: Sports and exercise are good for everyone, including people with asthma. You need to feel confident and enjoy yourself. The first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor about getting your asthma under better control. Once you have a plan that keeps you breathing easy while you play, you’ll feel that confidence in your game. Remember, there are lots of successful professional and Olympic athletes that have asthma.

…about school

Q: I get teased by my friends at school because of my asthma. I get embarrassed about having to use my inhaler. Asthma is ruining my life!

A: Those aren't friends! Friends would not treat you like that. Try explaining to them that their comments and actions really hurt. If they don't stop, tell a teacher you trust or guidance counselor what’s going on. Try to make new friends who will give you the support you need. Asthma is very common, so you'll probably find that you are not the only one with asthma in your class. Right now you need to build up your confidence and accept yourself as you are, with or without asthma.

Questions and answers adapted from GlaxoSmithKline's Xhale Magazine for Kids (2001) and the American Lung Association's Teens Against Tobacco Use materials. Updated 2009.