By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte
An article in The Lancet about an Italian boy whose asthma was supposedly triggered by seeing how many men ex-girlfriend’s had friended on Facebook has attracted a great number of headlines, including this one in the Washington Post. As a Facebook user myself, I would say that as public health threats go, worrying about the social network triggering asthma should rate pretty low on the list, behind the health consequences of not finishing homework for school kids and burning Thanksgiving dinner for parents because they are too busy on the computer.
Stress is a trigger. As we point out in Asthma Allergies Children: a parent’s guide, children who were hospitalized at National Jewish Hospital where their asthma was brought under control could relapse when their moms came to visit. This gave rise to the invention of family therapy. However, asthma can’t be triggered from scratch. The lungs must already be “twitchy.” That is, the underlying inflammation levels must be high enough so that an additional trigger will be enough to push the airways into broncospasm, wheezing, and so forth. We do everything we can to make sure that patients stay away from that threshold by taking their medication, cleaning their rooms, and on and on.
For the parents of Facebook Boy, I would advise monitoring his use of his medication, and encouraging him to cool it with the girls.