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Posted at 12:07 AM ET, 11/19/2010

Is that right? Facebook triggers asthma attacks?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Facebook's been in the news lately for the blandness of its graphic design, its newfangled messaging function and its purported role in promoting adultery.

And now this: Apparently using Facebook can trigger asthma attacks.

A commentary published this morning in the British medical journal The Lancet reports on the case of a young Italian man whose asthma acted up one summer, a season during which his condition was normally well under control.

Seems the poor guy had been ditched by his girlfriend, who had also "unfriended" him on Facebook. Not only that, she had "friended" a number of other young men. Our guy managed to become her "friend" again under a new user name and thus was able to do what my kids call "stalking," that is, scouring his ex-girlfriend's Facebook page for photos of her and her new male friends. When he saw the young lady's photograph there, he hyperventilated, and asthma attacks ensued.

The young man's doctor asked the young man's worried mom to measure his "peak expiratory flow" -- a measure of how well a person can exhale -- before and after he visited Facebook. Sure enough, his breathing was restricted severely upon logging on to the site. His doctors systematically ruled out other possible physical and environmental triggers.

Facebook can be a source of social and emotional stress for so many (Facebook)

Alas, the solution was at once simple and painful: After consulting with a psychiatrist, the young man agreed to stop using Facebook. And, yes, when he did, his asthma attacks stopped.

If this all sounds a bit Shakespearean to you, note that there's a take-home message: Because stress is well known to exacerbate asthma, especially among people who are depressed, and as Facebook can be a source of social and emotional stress for so many, doctors treating people with asthma should be aware of Facebook's (and other social networks') potential role in triggering asthma attacks.

Do any unusual things seem to trigger your asthma? What are they, and what do you do about them?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | November 19, 2010; 12:07 AM ET
Categories:  Asthma, Mental Health, Social Media, Teens  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Used too long, pacifiers may harm speech
Next: Painkiller Darvon pulled because of risk to heart


I tend to think the cause of the asthma was the stress he underwent and the way he handled the situation, i.e., stalking. I don't get from this story that Facebook itself is the culprit. Whatever makes this person stalk his ex-girlfriend is the issue that should be looked at.

Posted by: honeybnutrition | November 19, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I've read that "emotional" asthma attacks are triggered by hyperventilation under stressful situations. The hyperventilation lowers the level of CO2 in the body, and the asthma attack is a defense mechanism to prevent further loss of CO2, but often results in a vicious circle of more hyperventilation, lower CO2, and increasing asthma attack.

Posted by: FrankIBC | November 19, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

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