Every time I hear about someone who died from asthma, especially when it’s a child, I can’t help but feel just a little guilty for living as long as I have.
Despite having one of the lowest asthma mortality rates in the world, 3500-4000 people still die from asthma each year in the United States, along with nearly 7,000 deaths that can be attributed to asthma.* By some estimates, 1% to 7% of people with the more severe form asthma will die of their disease each year, and perhaps up to 17% of those who survive near-fatal attacks will eventually succumb to asthma.*
Most asthma deaths occur suddenly and outside of the hospital, often as a result of a massive allergic reaction, which leads to asphyxiation. Other deaths are the result of a long protracted exacerbation that gets gradually worse over time. Most of these deaths occur inside the hospital. A disproportionate number of asthma deaths and hospitalizations occur in African Americans and in those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, undoubtedly from a lack of access to proper health care. Others die because they’re non-compliant with their medications and/or they delay treatment. Whatever the reason, it’s an absolute tragedy that so many people still die from this disease.
I have very severe asthma and have survived several near-fatal attacks throughout my lifetime, so how is it that I’ve managed to beat the odds for so long? I’ve had some close calls, but I’m still here. Is it because of my genes? Access to good medical care? Being proactive about my disease? Is it the exercise? Is it pure luck?
Its a probably little bit of all the above. I also think that living with the disease for a long time toughens you up a little as well. Still, I can’t help but feel guilty that I’m still alive while others have lost the battle way too soon. Living a long time with severe asthma is not exactly a picnic, I suffer a lot and spend more time in the hospital than I care to, but I can still function pretty much normal and I still enjoy life. I’m still in the game so to speak.
I think the best thing I can do to put these guilty feelings to good use, is to continue to educate and work with others on bringing attention to this deadly and debilitating disease. We need to get these horrible statistics down. I hope others who have survived with disease a long time will do so as well.
Sly RM. Increases in deaths from asthma. Ann Allergy. 1984;53(1):20-25.