on Jan 30, 2008
Steven muses about the rise of cancer and asthma. He cites a common concern that these killers are the result of our immune system being underworked by living in such clean conditions.
One thing I’ve always feared is that asthma is growing because we’ve stopped it from killing us, and so asthmatics are breeding. I wouldn’t have made it to adulthood without modern medicine to keep my asthma at bay. Good for me, but perhaps it let me pass the curse on to my kids. (One of our three has Asthma. Thank goodness she’s nowhere near as bad as I was at her age. I’m actually pretty confident she can grow out of it.) Before we had these drugs, people who had severe asthma got weeded out, which always kept our numbers low. (Medicine hasn’t always been our friend. My grandmother died of asthma years before I was born. When she was diagnosed, the doctor wrote her a prescription for cigarettes. To treat her asthma.)
This is not to say I discount the “Hygiene hypothesis“. Like many problems, I suspect that asthma is even more complicated than it seems at first. I’ve met and exchanged notes with many other asthmatics in my life, and one of the most infuriating things about it is how different each case is. Some people grow out of it in their teens. Some people – like me – actually get worse. Some people develop it later in life, after middle age. Some people have attacks triggered by certain allergic reactions. Some by exercise or heavy breathing. Some by certain combinations of temperature and humidity. Some by stress. Some for no discernable reason at all. Some people get attacks that come and go. Some people get attacks that escalate until they intervene with medicine. Some can combat their attacks with folk remedies like caffeine, relaxation, humidifiers, bathing, breathing exercises, or diet changes. Other people only respond to drugs. Some people get attacks deep in their lungs which produce the “wheezing” sound. Some get attacks higher up, where the effect is silent and just produces a “tightness” in the chest.
This is just an overview of the variables in place, as I’ve observed them over the last 30 years or so. I imagine things get more complex, not less, as you get down to the nuts and bolts of what is going on inside the body. The more I learn about asthma the more it seems like a group of conditions which share a common set of symptoms.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.