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I am afraid my brother will die from his asthma


Dear Life Coach,

I am an 18-year-old female and my 6-year-old brother is asthmatic. When he was born he seemed okay and I was so happy to have a baby brother, as I already had two younger sisters. When my brother was about two years old, he had an asthma attack and since then we have been rushing him to the doctor every few weeks in order to save his life. Whenever he has an asthma attack, it lasts for days and he has to be given oxygen and IV fluid. I am so worried that one of these days he will die if he does not get better. Sometimes, I visit him in the hospital and I cry a lot (although I do not let him see me). What is causing him to be so sick and is there anything else that can be done to help him?{{more}}

Worried Sister (WS)

Dear WS,

You are worried that your brother could die from one of his asthma attacks and you feel powerless to help him.

What’s Going On:

Here are some factors that contribute to your present situation: Psychophysiological/Stress Disorder, asthma, stress, physiological factors/genetics, allergens, among others. I will address these briefly.

Psychophysiological /Stress Disorders

Stressful situations in our lives can affect both our psychological and physical functioning, which in turn can result in psychophysiological disorders. This is because the mind and body are inextricably (cannot be separated) linked together. Asthma is a psychophysiological disorder.


Asthma is a disorder that is characterized by recurrent periods of breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, and a sensation of choking. This breathing difficulty is caused by a narrowing of the airways in the lungs, due to muscle spasms, mucus secretion, or swelling of the lung tissue, which may be triggered by allergens, seasonal changes, exercises, dust, pollen, animal dander and emotional problems.


Stress refers to a mental and physical condition that occurs when a person must adjust to changes in the environment. Stress may be due to one or more stressors (conditions or events in the environment that challenges or threaten the person, which may be real or imagined). A variety of situations causes stress, e.g. daily hassles, work, conflicts, getting married, travelling, etc. Some stresses are good and expected, such as going to college, while some stresses are bad, such as death of a family member. According to research, stress may be one of the triggers of an asthmatic attack.

Physiological Factors

While there is some controversy, it is believed that psychosocial factors (stressful situations) can help to cause small but significant changes in the lungs that result in asthmatic symptoms and that such physiological responses may be genetically transmitted (passed from parent(s) to child).


Allergens are substances that cause an allergy (allergic reaction). An allergic reaction means that an individual has an abnormally high sensitivity to certain substances, such as pollens, foods, or microorganisms. Common indications of allergy include sneezing, itching, and skin rashes. In the case of asthma it causes wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, and a choking sensation.

Possible Steps to Take:

Track Stress & Allergens: Track stress and allergens in your brother’s environment. Use a journal to record where your brother is, what he is doing, what is happening in the environment, and what is in his environment at the time when an asthma attack occurs. Include the date, time of day, and location also. After doing this for several weeks you may be able to note a pattern on when these attacks occur. You may need to enlist the help of other persons, such as teachers, friends and other family members. Possible sources of stress: family conflicts, domestic violence, problems or difficulties at school, loneliness or lack of friendship, lack of basic necessity can all create stress in the life of a child. Possible allergens: Allergens may be due to pets or farm animals in or around his neighbourhood (pet dander), flowering plants (pollination), detergents or other household products (toxins), living near an industrial plant (pollutants in the air) or garbage disposal area (pollutants in the air), living in an old building (mold and dust mites), etc. Eliminate stress & allergens: Once you have identified the stress triggers you can set about eliminating them by removing allergens, resolving family conflicts via counselling and/or relocating.

Asthma Treatment

Continue to seek medical treatment as soon as an asthma attack occurs. Your brother will start school soon, if he has not yet started. Ensure that teachers are aware of his condition and know how to respond if an attack occurs at school. Your brother is old enough and can be taught to use an asthma inhaler by his doctor. Also ensure that the adults who are responsible for his care are also trained to use an inhaler and have one handy at all times.

Improvement with Age

Sometimes asthmatic conditions improve with age, as well as with improvement in living conditions and surrounding environment.

WS, asthma attacks can definitely be frightful. Hopefully you will be able to identify and eliminate the stressors and allergens in your brother’s environment and so reduce the risks of his asthma attacks.

Life Coach


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