Asthma Much More Complex Than Many Think

By: Sally Wenzel, M.D.

For too long, too many have thought of asthma as something of a minor disease. I don’t mean that doctors who treat asthma patients don’t take their care seriously. I and my patients with severe asthma are very serious about this deadly disease. But there seems to be a sense among some doctors — and even some patients — that asthma is an inconvenience, a simple disease to be managed rather than a complex disease that requires diligent treatment.
And there is little in the public eye to validate for asthma sufferers that they indeed have a serious, life-threatening disease.
The truth is that asthma is more complicated than many diseases and no one can legitimately claim to completely understand it. For instance, different asthma patients find different things might trigger attacks. For many, heavy, humid, summer air, with its associated smog and particle pollution, makes breathing difficult. That’s true here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where the American Lung Association and other advocacy groups promote clean, healthy air. But for many other patients, fall and winter can be just as difficult, if not more so, because of the risk of seasonal respiratory viral infections.
I have been practicing pulmonary medicine for a few decades. I see patients who have severe asthma who need more than an inhaled steroid. They understand their battle with asthma is a life-and-death battle. But that understanding isn’t universal and needs to be.
Until all doctors, patients and advocacy groups start seeing asthma, or at least a good percentage of asthma patients, as more than a minor consideration, I’m afraid many asthmatics will remain poorly understood, treated and underserved.
Sally Wenzel, M.D., is director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute. This story appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as a letter to the editor on Aug. 9.