Asthma communication

Child using inhalerHappened to see a film on asthma at prime time on one of the prominent TV channels. The next day, a doctor friend, who has a daughter suffering from asthma, observed that the film left her more scared and confused.

For some reason, I think the maker of the film wanted to frighten people. Not sure if that will make the viewers pant for the sponsor’s medicines.

How I would prefer it

My communication to someone affected by a disease like asthma or diabetes, which tends to stick to you through life, will attempt to reassure and win confidence. The poor patient or family member is already suffering. So cut out the snarl and the pointing finger. Try a hand on the shoulder.

This is how I would approach a film on asthma.

  • Identify with the fears of the parent or patient.
  • Reassure that it is another disease that tends to stay with you, like diabetes. There is nothing shameful if the others know that you have asthma.
  • It is possible to control asthma. Your having asthma need not stop you from doing what you would like to do, unless it is something that may make your asthma worse. Your doctor can tell you about this.
  • There are mainly two types of asthma medicines. One gives you immediate relief from an attack. This is very important. At the same time, you do not want to get frequent attacks in the first place. So you take another set of medicines that prevent an attack from happening.
  • Many medicines for asthma are available in various forms–tablets, syrups and sprays that have to be inhaled.
  • Doctors recommend that you take inhalers that spray the medicine through your mouth straight into the lungs. There are two big advantages for you in  inhalers.

Use analogy minus jargon and anatomy

  • Take a seed of mustard and put it beside a watermelon. This comparison will give you an idea of the amount of medicine contained in the spray as against the tablet. The tablet must contain the medicine in melon-size quantity because it has a long way to travel from the stomach to the lungs. During the journey it is spreading the medicine to other organs and parts of the body. This increases the risk of side-effects. The spray just needs to have medicine in mustard-size quantity, because it is directly applied to the lungs. (I am not sure if the mustard seed to melon proportion is pharmacologically correct.)
  • Now, for the second reason. Suppose there is a fire in a corner of a large room. You can pour many buckets of water from the other end of the room. The water will ultimately reach the fire and hopefully put the fire out. The second option is to use a fire extinguisher directly on the fire. It puts the fire out immediately without flooding the entire room. I would like to show some furniture, books, rugs, etc damaged by the water to signify side effects on other organs.

Linger on the main message

  • The sponsor’s main interest is in pushing the inhaler route of administration. Nothing wrong in that. To my knowledge, that is good for the patient too. The analogies have established the rationale. Now, demolish the fears and myths.
  • Many people fear the inhaler. What we must remember is that the inhaler is just a method of reaching the medicine to the body. It is not a medicine by itself. It is a container. Like the metal body of the fire extinguisher. There must be other ways to deliver the contents of the extinguisher. Are those as effective and and easy as using the fire extinguisher?

Challenge and reassure

  • For asthma control, taking the medicine is a must. So why not take it the best way?
  • Asthma can be controlled provided you want it controlled. Doctors and inhalers are here to help. Follow the doctor’s advice and take the right medicine in the right time in the right quantity and you will control asthma. Others may not even come to know that you have asthma.

The communication must convey this in a matter-of-fact, piece-of-lifestyle manner. There is no need to frighten, nor is there a need for any false assurance.

A communication that frightens works best if the objective is prevention. I will happily show an image of a face eaten away by oral cancer to discourage the purchase of yet another pouch of chewing tobacco. But why show that to someone who is already down with cancer?

Happened to see a film on asthma at prime time on one of the prominent TV channels. The next day a doctor friend, who has a daughter suffering from asthma, observed that the film left her more scared and confused.

Probably, the maker could not resist injecting an element of sensationalism  into the film.

What should a film about asthma cover?

  • Identify with the fears of the parent or patient
  • Reassure that it is another disease that tends to stick around like diabetes. There is nothing shameful if the others know that you have asthma.
  • It is possible to control asthma. Your having asthma need not stop you from doing what you would like to do, unless it is something that may make your asthma worse. Your doctor can tell you about this.
  • There are mainly two types of asthma medicines–one that gives you immediate relief from an attack. This is very important. At the same time, you do not want to get frequent attacks in the first place. So you take another set of medicines that prevent an attack from happening.
  • Many medicines for asthma are available in various forms–tablets, syrups and sprays that have to be inhaled.
  • Doctors recommend that you take inhalers that spray the medicine through your mouth straight into the lungs. There are two big advantages for you in taking inhalers.
  • Take a seed of mustard and put it beside a watermelon. This comparison will give you an idea of the amount of medicine contained in the spray as against the tablet. The tablet must contain the medicine in melon-size quantity because it has a long way to travel from the stomach to the lungs. During the journey it is spreading the medicine to other organs and parts of the body. This increases the risk of side-effects. The spray just needs to have medicine in mustard-size quantity, because it is directly applied to the lungs.
  • Now for the second reason. Suppose there is a fire in a corner of a large room. You can pour many buckets of water from the other end of the room. The water will ultimately reach the fire and hopefully put the fire out. The second option is to use a fire extinguisher directly on the fire. It puts the fire out immediately without wetting the entire room.
  • Many people fear the inhaler. What we must remember is that the inhaler is just a method of reaching the medicine to the body. It is not a medicine by itself. For asthma control, taking the medicine is a must. So why not take it the best way?
  • Asthma can be controlled provided you want it controlled. Doctors and inhalers are here to help. Follow the doctor’s advice and take the right medicine in the right time in the right quantity and you will control asthma. Others may not even come to know that you have asthma.

In my opinion, the communication needs to convey this in a matter-of-fact, piece-of-lifestyle manner. There is no need to frighten, nor is there a need for any false assurance.

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