Telling people you have asthma

This was triggered by UniGirl's post about jobs/uni and asthma, and by an experience I had today.

I was at a close friend's hen do today, with some other friends from uni but also some of her newer friends from work.

I really enjoyed myself in general, but part of the day was spending time at my friend's work friend's house (she organised the hen do so we ate and played games there). Really nice people, but problem is, the work friend and her two housemates all smoked. They did it outside but as the doors were open it came right in.

I thought I might be ok - I've been a bit better recently and hadn't needed any reliever at all till that point. But I wasn't - 14 puffs in the second half of the day and needing more; not at needing help point but definitely worse than before grr (hope it goes soon as I""m about to move and have lots to do).

I am just a bit cross with myself as I feel since I am not a shy teenager I should have been adult enough to ask them nicely if they could not smoke while I was around. They seemed like very nice people so I'm sure they would have done, but I felt, however irrationally:

a) It's their house, they're hosting something, the two housemates weren't even part of the hen do so me coming in and asking them not to do something in their own house, however reasonable it is. just for me, felt a bit rude/OTT

b) I didn't really want to raise it with uni friends around - they kind of know stuff but ask about it sometimes and I don't really like talking about it with them - didn't want to have the whole 'so how is all that? discussion (they're my friends, they'd prob want to know how it's going, how I am etc but by now I really don't like talking about it with 'non-asthma' ppl)

c) I didn't want to feel like I was drawing attention onto myself/making a fuss after they'd started smoking by saying what I felt like was a bit of a 'look at me' especially when it was my friend's hen do.

Am I overthinking it all or do others have this problem? I feel like I should have been able to deal with it easily and maturely with minimal fuss by just saying 'do you mind holding off till I leave as I have asthma?' and it should have been easy, sorted, but for some reason I thought it would be easier to just take my inhaler quietly and not say, because I just didn't want to bring it up, and it got harder after they'd smoked a few (they'd probably have felt bad about it and it would have become more of a 'thing' at that point).

I also wasn't sure how they would have reacted as I didn't want to be a drama queen about it but some people do then have the 'oh well it's *just* asthma' thing.

Not sure this is very coherent but I feel like I really should be able to just deal with this kind of thing easily by now and wondered what others' thoughts/experiences are. I'm sure there was a much better way to handle it without making any fuss - I don't think anyone is necessarily interested in discussing me and my lungs! But for some reason it did feel awkward and I wondered how others have dealt with this sort of thing.

14 Replies

  • Hi Philomela, I can really understand you. I am at uni as well so, I know what you are talking about, been there. I know it can be weird and how uncomfortable can it get. Once, I was over at a friend´s for her birthday, we were just there with some friends of hers from uni, at a point they´ve started smoking. I was just diagnosed and had at least, 6 people smoking in circle with me sitting on a chair as far as I could, I never said anything to them but, I started coughing. I was just at symbicort at that time. Not knowledge at all about ventolin, so had no inhaler with me. And, it ended up with me in the hospital, with a pretty badly asthma attack, plus a pretty mad, and worried mom. Later that week I was introduced to ventolin, now, I won´t go anywhere with out it.

    But, the real thing here, the important one is our health. I learnt, with that day and another events at uni, that our health is first. So, now, what I do it is wonder what matters the world to me? my health or how other´s will react? It is hard I know, and I am not trying to judge you at all. I think next time you should tell them, excuse me, I´ve got asthma. would you mind smoking somewhere else? I´m pretty sure they won´t react badly and won´t ask too much about it, and if they do just change the subject asking them questions about themselves. Hope everything goes well and that you feel great too.

    Best whishes.

    Celeste :)

  • Hi Philomela,

    In that situation, I feel less embarrassed to say something than to take lots of inhaler so I would probably have closed the window each time they smoked with a simple explanation the first time and kept it closed for a few mins after. until the smoke had dissipated.

    I had a similar situation at work during training week. The majority of my colleagues smoke and when we were outside sat at the picnic tables, because my asthma has been horrible this summer, I had to sit on a separate table. My close colleagues felt bad and wanted to move away so that I could sit at the main table but I just wanted a hole to swallow me up as not everyone knows I have asthma in the wider circle of colleagues and they were all listening.

    When my asthma is in a good phase, it is less sensitive to cigarette smoke and I can be more subtle but when it is sensitive like now I run a mile lol. To strong perfumes and air fresheners too!

  • Celeste - thanks - that sounds awful :( I should say I am not actually at uni anymore (well, not really - doing a masters but as a mature student of 27 and it's not at all the same). I meant, these were friends from when I was at uni but it is confusing! I do see your point; I also think I have a tendency to push things because I know I'm not quite 'that' bad and feel like I can avoid hospital, but I know I shouldn't and in any case I have now been admitted twice so I can't be sure of that anymore!

    JF - I was surprised by how much it affected me as well as I thought I was doing welll and that smoke was also a 'secondary' trigger (ie only sets me off when already not so good). But that perhaps applies to walking past someone smoking in the street smoking rather than being around it for several hours. Everything I've seen does say secondhand smoke is usually a pretty bad trigger.

    I think the problem was that they had the French windows open and the smokers were out there smoking but also still interacting with the rest of us, so closing the doors would have rather interfered socially (and it was also a heat/ventilation thing). I guess the best thing to do would perhaps have been to ask them not to, though as UniGirl (I think) pointed out on another post there's always the risk that one of them is a mild asthmatic and does the whole 'well I can manage it'. I think people dd see me taking my inhaler but didn't comment.

    I think it might well have been fine, but my thinking (however irrational) was that I was having such a good time I didn't want to risk derailing it/making it awkward esp for my friend. And if I'm honest I was enjoying being away from all the asthma stuff - except of course it was reminding me it was there!

    uggh. All sorts of irrational things coming into play here...

  • Hiya,

    Hmm, this is an interesting one, and I am sure it certainly isn't something that you are alone in thinking and doing :-)

    Its fairly obvious that I have asthma and not something that I particularly (can) hide as I have pretty severe attacks pretty frequently, which sees me hospitalised etc (as you know!!), but I have a huge thing about using my inhaler in front of people and I certainly would never tell anyone that they were doing something which was a trigger (the exceptions to this being the family members whom I live with, yet I still wont use inhalers in front of them!).

    I don't think this is uncommon though. I think the self-consciousness with this comes from the fact that people look at you when you take an inhaler out, and look at you as if to say ""OMG you're dying!"" I know this is probably utter c%&p because statistically a very large proportion of the population have asthma! I also get the worry with mentioning it to people who think its just a case of a quick puff of salbutamol and all is fine and dandy. I know when in the past I have encountered ""its only asthma - take your blue inhaler"" kind of thing, I have pointed out that actually it can be quite serious and that people DO still die from asthma attacks - not that I think that I will, but its a fact and any asthmatic could potentially have a fatal attack.

    I get the wanting to be away from asthma stuff - sometimes its good just to have a break from it interfering! I know that at the minute it stops me from doing a lot of the things I would like to, so I definitely try to make the most of being with friends and stuff. It does intrude (like it did with you yesterday), but I try to ignore the asthma symptoms (stupid I know!!) or disappear into the loos to take inhalers. I was with another asthmatic friend the other day, just chilling out and I was struggling a fair bit, but there was no way that I was going to take inhalers in front of them!! So ""went to the loo"" and fortunately got it sorted ... that's pretty irrational LOL. You'd think that 1. I would realise how stupid it is not to use reliever stuff as early as possible to try and avoid a worse attack, and 2. WHY be self- conscious in front of another asthmatic who GETS it!!!

    Hmm ... amongst the incoherent ramblings, what I think I am trying to say is that you aren't alone in doing this, I don't think its irrational :-)

    Laura x

  • Laura - I'm glad I'm not the only one who goes to the loo to take my inhaler (although I suspected I wouldn't be)! Even when I am with really close friends (one has fairly bad asthma herself) and they know that I need my inhaler, I find it hard to take it in front of them. Strangely I am happier taking my MDi in front of people than turbohaler! Whilst having a pretty severe attack (bad enough for them to later dial 999), I made my colleagues turn away while I took the inhaler (until I just felt so rubbish I didn't care.

    Philomela - I find being around people who are smoking sets me off much more easily that just passing people (which would be a secondary trigger). In fact next time I see a new neighbour, I need to ask him to kindly not to smoke outside my window (well underneath it as I am on the first floor) as this means that for the few hours a day when I can get some fresh air into my flat and not create hayfever problems, I still get a good dose of triggers. I don't particularly want to say for asthma reasons though as you pointed out above.

    All in all though, the people who are closest to me know about my asthma and if I am with them and something is a problem, they will usually point out how bad it is to the others. They have got quite used to this now and do it really well. I also have the same feeling when I have to tell restaurants that I have food allergies.

  • I think its something that everyone will have a different take on, and you have to figure out what works for you. (not much help at all really LOL!). My take if I were in that situation would be that my health is my responsibility, not anyone else's, and I wouldn't expect them to change their behaviour in their own home which I had chosen to go in to. Not because of embarrassment, just because it wouldn't feel right to me, particularly if it was someone I didnt really know.

    Some of my friends smoke, and I dont expect them to modify their behaviour, I think its up to me to make a choice. Whilst obviously they don't smoke on top of me, they do smoke - and I think its up to me whether I am in close proximity to them when they do. Each to their own I think!

  • Nursefurby, that's true, and it's why I was reluctant to ask them to stop as it was their house and I felt awkward, as a guest of really only one of them.

    On the other hand:

    1) I had no idea that they smoked, therefore I didn't know when I went into their home that this would be an issue and had no chance to make other arrangements beforehand eg not attend that part of the hen do (and I think that in itself might have created more awkwardness). I could have found out beforehand but to be honest it didn't really occur to me to ask, and doing so just makes me feel like more of a drama queen - I don't like to say, when I'm not sure if it will be an issue, 'I need xyz and may not be able to do xyz'. Though if I had food allergies I""d have to, but then I guess if I had a nut allergy I'd KNOW it would be an issue if I ate a nut. I guess now I know it will be an issue to sit in a smoky room for hours!

    2) Once they had begun smoking, if I didn't ask them to stop and didn't want to be around it, my only real option was to leave entirely, or go and hide in the bathroom for 3 hours (they were chain-smoking). I can't help feeling that this again would have been more awkward; they would probably have felt bad about it; my friend whose hen do it was certainly would have felt bad and awkward about it and I didn't want to do this; I think part of my problem was that either asking them to stop or removing myself felt very disruptive in this situation and it was an occasion that wasn't about me. If it had been a general party, rather than one focused on my friend, and the person/people smoking didn't live there, I might have felt more able to ask them to stop without it becoming too much of an issue.

    So yes, it was up to me and my health is my responsibiity but at the same time, I am reluctant to exercise that responsibility where doing so has the potential to get awkward in this way. It might have been fine but this was my concern. At the same time. I'm aware that it's probably not the best idea to sit there in silence and make my lungs worse (they're still not happy today though could certainly be worse) so I do need to work out the best way to deal with it for next time.

    Kayla - I am pretty sure my friends would be supportive, but because they knew me before all this was an issue, and I don't actually spend much time with them anymore, I am very reluctant to discuss it a lot of the time, however irrational this is. It's situations like this though where it would have helped - the 'hen' could have had a quiet word with her friend and housemates perhaps. But she didn't have more than a vague idea about what's going on, or that this would be a problem for me.

    I do know a lot of this is probably my weird hang-ups, but I just don't really know how to deal with it non-awkwardly though I'm sure there is a way.

  • In my experience, the more awkward I feel about something, the more awkward other people feel about it - whether thats my asthma/smoking, or my not eating/tube feeding. If Im open about it (and I have had to say 'Im so sorry but Im not going to be able to come in' when standing on the doorstep of a smoke filled house which I hadnt predicted) but in a positive way - and be clear that its me with the health problem, not a judgement, people have been absolutely fine and it hasn't caused any issues, either with friends or other people.

    Perhaps its because I've had little choice but to be open about things, its hard to hide feeding tubes and nebulisers following you round. I think for the most part, people will follow your lead in how you manage things, thus if its done openly, and pleasantly there's rarely a problem. The less awkward you feel about your asthma, the less awkward it will feel in those situations ;)

  • Hey Phil,

    I think we all anticipate rejection in asking for any 'special treatment' - whether it's asthma or something totally different. But when you ask people to accommodate you and they do it then it makes it easier for them to ask you to accommodate their needs in future. Relationships built on mutual-favours are actually what we all need more of!

    I'm a bit of a pragmatist - the most inconvenient / awkward thing is me having a major attack or being so obviously unwell that people can't relax, so I don't find it awkward to ask for what I need to avoid that.

    For example - we have friends here this weekend, and asked them not to wear or bring perfume to the house. I'm sure that has made it easier for them to ask for things that they need while here.

    On many occasions over the last couple of years we've had to leave parties / pub / BBQ etc early because something is triggering me - and we just deal with it really matter-of-factly. If you are confident about expressing it then it don't think the other person feels bad - it's when you're projecting some kind of insecurity about their reaction, and then they pick up on the weird vibe, and then it gets awkward.

    I think Nurse Furby is right about there being something about taking personal responsibility in the situation. Personally I don't go to the houses of smokers very often. On the other hand something that comes up more than you'd think is that we'll go to a neighbour's house for a cup of tea and one of their kids will walk in to the kitchen and pick up a satsuma to eat. I'm very allergic to oranges of all kinds, and even being near someone eating one can cause me issues, so I've got quite good at asking them to go and eat it a bit further away from me, rather than trigger an attack. I think my opening gambit is ""I know this sounds daft but... "". Generally they have a friend with a serious allergy and even little kids seem to understand about allergies and asthma these days.

    I try to be super practical about all this stuff. For example I haven't gone out on the walk with our friends and my partner today because the route they are taking is only accessible by helicopter for about 80% of it, and I'm just getting over an adrenal crisis and my asthma isn't very stable. I don't want to be in a position where we are stressing about calling for a helicopter vs trying to cope without, and I don't want to burden the air ambulance the cost of my rescue, when I can stay home and watch the cricket instead :) If they were doing a route that was near to the road I would have gone. They offered to change the route but we really want them to see this amazing geological feature that is only accessible on foot - I can go for a normal walk any time.

    In the situation you were in, if I couldn't move to a place where the smoke didn't trigger me (and I'm sure you tried that) I would have just said ""Wow, my asthma is RIDICULOUSLY sensitive today - can I get you to move a bit further away so that we don't have to listen to me coughing?"" and then I would have followed that up with ""If I'd thought it was going to be a problem obviously I'd have said so sooner..."" and so on.

    I actually got a lift with a friend recently and asked her not to smoke in her car on the journey, even with the window open. It felt a bit cheeky as she was doing me a favour, but there was no way I could get through being in a car full of smoke. I did say I was totally fine with her stopping for a smoke in a lay-by :) She wasn't in the least bit put out. I often do say something along the lines of ""I know it's a total PIA, but not as much of a PIA as having to divert ourselves to the hospital if my lungs get stupid.""

    Anyway - my advice is that if you're bold in stating what you need (which you have to learn to differentiate from what you simply want) then it also makes it easier for your friends to state what they need. In the end that's better for all of us than everybody trying to contain their needs and doing stiff-upper-lip all the time.


  • I don’t think we can ever guarantee people will have the reaction we want them too but I think curiouser has the right attitude. I can have good days and bad days with triggers but as a general rule I try to avoid them whenever possible as I think in the long run even if a trigger doesn’t affect me there and then it sort of” weakens” me and makes attacks more likely for the few days after that. We all have examples when we have been a little too shy to say.

    Mine was in Cyprus with my dad, uncle, uncles wife and her friends. The smoking ban is in effect there so I thought I would be fine. Most of the restaurant have a very open layout and in one particular restaurant on second night, although there was a roof overhead (its like a big sheet made out of same material as a parasol), it was technically classed as outside. There was an inside but only tiny tables we couldn’t sit around to eat a big meal. As our food came, a new table of two came and sat near and the man decided to chain smoke – I have never seen anything like it, was absurd to me. He would smoke a cigarette then as soon as it went out, light another, this happened for about 10 mins or so, at first I was fine and feeling really good about myself. Then I started to feel a little funny, then his wife lit a cigarette and he lit a cigar this time (after all them cigs!!) and it formed one giant smoke cloud whilst I wasn’t looking and came straight at me, I walked straight out as I knew exactly what was going to happen but post-attack I had to wander back in all teary eyed and still wheezy to get my stuff – very embarrassing.

    Philmela, it was me who said about the mild asthmatics. Of course some people are very understanding right away but I know so many people with mild asthma who smoke and I can’t for the life of me understand why, even when it means taking there inhaler next day. I find it very annoying as I have no choice but to take inhalers but they take it so they can smoke. And it’s a sort of “if I can do it, you’ll be fine” attitude.

    In terms of taking my inhaler, I am caring less and less if people are there. For ex, I was with a few people the other night whom I have only met two or so times before and I didn’t even mention that I had asthma before whipping my inhaler out to take it. No one said anything or stared or acted like it was weird but if someone would have had questions I would have been happy to answer.

    Occasionally I feel weird taking my (blue) inhaler due to my uncomfortable tight chest or if I can “feel it coming” as I think people expect me to be struggling for breathe in order to use it but that isn’t always the case. So I may look fine (I am good at hiding it) but feel absolutely rubbish on the inside so it must be confusing why I am taking my medicine.

    Nurse Furby, howcome you need a feeding tube? I hope everything is OK.

  • unigirl i have started doing that too

    Someone on here a while ago mentioned being told to take the inhaler as soon as they can feel symptoms starting rather than letting it get bad, i've started doing this and generally it does make life easier

    I've also (finally) got over the embarrassment of using my inhaler in front of people - it doesn't bother me who is there (the one exception being my pupils) and i don't think i've ever had a negative reaction :-)

  • I had issues for a while with my lungs being really twitchy and because i live in halls, there are often smokers stood outside my building, if lungs are cross even walking past smokers for long enough to get into the building, and unfortunately, this was not something i could avoid really, id love to have been able to 'leave the party' but it was where i was living. Eventually i gave in and spoke to them, if you just explain clearly that sometimes their smoke really effects you, and that whilst its not their fault would they be able to do xyz to help. in my case they were completely lovely about it and apologised that theyd not thought of it after seeing me carted off in an ambulance, and we set up a system where i waved at them and theyd move well away from the door if i was struggling! I generally go with the ""its my issue, not yours"" thing, but there was no real way i could avoid this one, and they were great about it, a lot of smokers feel slightly guilty about it anyway. ive very rarely had a problem and if ive moved away from the group while people smoke ive often found smokers will volunteer to move away and let me rejoin the group!

    I have however had problems outside hospital, outside a hospital where people arent allowed to smoke and yet seem unwilling to walk the 50m to the smoking shelter i am more than happy to ask them to move - thats not me being awkward, its them. I have had people tell me to F off etc if ive asked them to move, although they always do anyway. Again, even though they are not allowed to smoke where they do i apologise and explain the situation and ask if theyd mind just moving a little further away from me. Again, most smokers have been very sympathetic and understanding. One smoker at uni actually quit because she thought it was so unfair that she was pumping her lungs full of rubbish and yet i couldnt even walk past her without ending up struggling! lol!

    with inhalers in public, i find once you've started it gets much easier, i will even take inhalers mid sentence and i find generally people dont even comment, maybe ask if im ok, but i find it less embarrasing than being carted off in an ambulance (if theyve managed to trick me into those wheelchair things i just close my eyes so i cant see who's loking at me!)

  • I don't mind too much taking my inhaler in front of most ppl (work/supervisor at uni excepted). I was doing that yesterday, it wasn't a problem; I think ppl saw me but no-one commented - wish they had in this case as it might have solved my 'problem'! It may not help that my cons has me on Atrovent to use as a 'standard' reliever which means I don't have the almost universally recognised blue inhaler which tells everyone 'asthma'.

    I think the reason I am odd about it is that I'm lucky enough not to have big attacks and end up in hospital - and if I'm honest, even though asthma has now been confirmed and my consultant is much more looking at things from the 'uncontrolled asthma' POV, I also seem to have internalised all the previous times I've been told that I'm 'just over-perceiving symptoms' and 'it's in my head' so that I feel a little ridiculous saying anything even though I KNOW it's bothering me. You're right that having an attack and being carted off in an ambo would certainly derail my friend's event, or any social event, but because I know it's highly unlikely to reach the point where it's that obvious. and I""ve been told so often 'it's not serious' even though I know now it's at least serious enough that just letting myself be triggered when I could reasonably avoid it is perhaps not the best idea, I somehow think it is a 'want' rather than a 'need' and that it's better to sit there and not say anything to avoid disruption.

    I'm completely aware this is not sensible btw, it's just what I think is going on - and next time I will take your advice, Curiouser, and try to raise it in a non-weird manner. I do know now that it WILL set me off and I really can't just sit there and say nothing, so I will follow your lead.

    Apologies for airing my neuroses btw - just felt I hadn't handled it very well and wanted some input. I keep getting told different things all the time by drs which really doesn't make it easy to know how to handle it and when I need to be careful/what is just being overdramatic and overcautious. By inclination I think I'm more on the reckless end and the 'I'm going to pretend I don't have any issues here because I really want to do X' but this tends to come back and bite me.

    EDIT Soph just seen your post - ggrr I hate those smokers round hosp doorways! Had to walk past them on my way in last time I was admitted and they set me off, then had to navigate my way round to EAU - didn't have much breath left when I got there and I think I scared the admin guy lol.

    This all strikes me as very stereotypically English lol - the anguish at making a perfectly reasonable request and seeming impolite, sort of a ramped up version of saying sorry when someone treads on your foot. Any non-English/non-assimilated ppl like to comment on whether they do this too or they think it's completely ridiculous?

  • Jinglfairy: This seems to be the ""hey, I think I'm that someone"" night :-) I think I was the one who has been talking about using the inhaler at first symptoms rather than waiting.

    Philomena, tt sounds like part of the problem for you was that almost anything you did would be socially awkward: not attending, leaving, asking people to not smoke near you. That's not a nice position to be in!

    Around smokers I try very hard to be accommodating because my mother smokes and I understand how addictive it can be and how hard it is not to smoke sometimes. There are times when my lungs tolerate smoke and tolerance isn't a problem. However, when my lungs are really jumpy I don't have much choice: a cigarette even 10m away can sometimes send me into a bend over double spasm of coughing that won't stop until I use my inhaler.

    I have found that smokers are generally polite and helpful, if one is willing to explain that there is a health issue. Explaining that one has asthma isn't being a drama queen. I think it is actually more a kindness, both to yourself and the smokers. Many smokers are very tired of being moralized to by non-smokers. If they are asked not to smoke without a good reason they'll take an attitude because it will come across as ""you *shouldn't* smoke"" rather than ""You are fine. I'm the one with a problem.

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