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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Asthma: My Movie Pet Peeve

It might seem like an insignificant detail, but when people screw up characters with asthma it really ticks me off. Why? Because I have yet to see a movie in which someone uses an inhaler correctly and it's not that bloody hard to do it right. Trust me, I know because I use an inhaler. The problem with Hollywood is that they either just don't give a flying fig about getting health problems such as asthma--which is kind of a big deal, by the way, considering that about 31 million Americans have it (about 1/10th of us)--or they haven't clue how to do it because by some stroke of luck there are absolutely no actors, directors, set workers, etc. who have the condition. I find the latter part hard to believe, but at the same time it may very well be true because I think after seeing a scene done incorrectly ten, twenty, maybe thirty times in the same day, someone like me might raise a hand and go, "Excuse me, sir, but that's not right."
How exactly do they screw up asthma? Well, every time you see someone use an inhaler (whether or actual asthma, or a disease of some sort that would need an inhaler) they always take a puff, suck in for a brief second, and immediately let it out, usually the instant after removing the inhaler. I'm sorry to report, but this NOT how it is done. Not even close. It's so blatantly wrong it actually hurts, and Hollywood has been at this for a long time. When you use an inhaler the object is to get the medicine deep into the longs, hold it there for a suitable amount of time so it can get into all the little cells and what not. This produces the maximum amount of relief. Think of it this way: you wouldn't take an aspirin, lick it, and expect it to work the same as swallowing the whole pill, right? Exactly.
Hollywood has NEVER got this right (at least, not that I have seen) and it's disturbing and annoying. Stop it. Seriously. It's not that hard to say "Mr. Actor (because for some reason almost all asthmatics on film are male, because there are absolutely no women with asthma at all right?), could you please suck in and hold your breath for five seconds after pretending to take a puff? Thank you."
What prompted this rant? The Goonies. Don't get me wrong, I love the film too. It's fantastic, a wonderful 1980s children's adventure movie with a little family drama and a little fantasy thrown into the mix. But the main character, Mikey (played by Sean Astin, who is a good actor), is supposed to have asthma, yet never uses his inhaler correctly. Not once. It's always "put it to his lips, push, breath, release, done". No holding of breath, nothing. This happens in Signs, Casino Royal, and Superman Returns (it's in I, Robot as well, but because that film is a futuristic film it sort of gets away with it). There are likely dozens of other films that screw it up (you can search IMDB for "asthma" and see a list of some seventy titles, in fact).
The point is, Hollywood has been screwing up and some of us actually notice. So stop it! Something seemingly so simple should be easy to do right. Or am I asking too much?

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  1. Nope! You are not asking too much. Actually my BFF from HS and I have had that same discussion as she has asthma (I think I noted that before).

    All we can assume is that movies in general over dramatized everything to make noticeable points. I took offense when watching "Panic Room" because of her diabetes reaction. It's been 4 years since I've seen the movie, so I don't remember the specifics, but it was off to how high blood sugars take affect over a couple period of days. I know since I am Type 1.

    Oh side note: I smiled at the Sean Astin comment only because he has been my favorite actor since I was a kid & yep, I get flack about it all the time :P

  2. Astin is really a fine actor. He's horribly underrated though. He has amazing talent, but people seem to ignore him. We know him by face, and we know he exists, but why he hasn't received awards for some of his most amazing work is beyond me. He should have been up for best supporting actor for LOTR and he damn well should have won. Nobody else could have been Sam. He was PERFECT for that role.
    And how about Rudy? Why no Oscar for him? Or Academy Award? He's been nominated for an Oscar once, but no wins. It's crap. He is a fine actor.

  3. I've noticed this before. My husband uses an inhaler.
    Actually, not sure I recall many people using an inhaler in the movies.
    What do they do wrong?

    Did you know that those epipens only buy more time and that the person having the allergic reaction still need to hall butt to the hospital?

  4. They don't hold in their breath long enough. That's what's wrong. It's how they breath. They puff, suck super quick and immediately breath out. That's now how you do it. You have to hold the medicine in there for a little while so it gets into your lungs real good. In fact, you can tell that they aren't actually pretending to breath in the medicine. It's horrible. It's not that hard to get right.

    I didn't know that about the epipens...

  5. thanks for the explanation.

  6. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I read your post after doing a search for asthma and movies. I am a clinical supervisor and health educator for an asthma clinic at a county hospital.

    Holding in their breath long enough is not the only thing hollywood is doing wrong. They are also not using a spacer. A spacer should be used for both controller and quick relief asthma medications. I hope you are using a spacer too. If not, inquire with your doctor or pharmacist about using a spacer as it helps direct the medication to you lungs properly and most efficiently.

  7. Anonymous: This is true, however to their credit, they do touch on a realistic part of being an asthmatic. Most asthmatics, including myself, do not use a spacer. So, it's not really unrealistic to portray what is a commonality in society within a movie. If everyone used a spacer, then that's an entirely different thing.

  8. Wow... You read my mind...I have thought the same thing forever.

    To add to the list of movies where a kid doesn't know how to take an inhaler: Stephen King's "IT".

  9. nwo: It happens in just about every single movie ever made that contains a kid who uses an inhaler, old and new. I've yet to see someone use an inhaler properly, and it pisses me off.

  10. I work as a nurse in an asthma & allergy clinic and have asthma myself. The crappy technique in movies annoys me, BUT it is what a lot of people do in real life. Even the ones I have taught umpteen times. So in a way, sadly, it rings true...

    Re: spacers... should definitely be used with controller medicine (also never shown in movies, which is actually more important than a reliever medicine like ventolin), but use with ventolin is somewhat less important due to better mucosal uptake and the fact that ideally you shouldn't need your ventolin... So it can be a debatable thing. You will, however, get better deposition with a spacer. About 20-30% more medication worth. Also, ventolin tastes like shit and spacers help with that. Maybe that's just me though.

    And re: Epipens or any other autoinjector. They use epinephrine... this can actually stop an anaphylactic reaction BUT only lasts roughly 15-20 minutes in the body to effectively do this. Also, you can have so severe a reaction that you need more than one dose, and to top things off, the reaction can happen again without exposure to anything you are allergic to--most likely in the 4-6 hours post treatment, which is why hospitals will observe you for about that long. So that's why it's important to get emergency help after an anaphylactic reaction.

    Anyway... I could keep going about this, but at the risk of boring people even more than I already have... :)