Disease perceptions, asthma, antibiotics and the respiratory microbiome

This project is about asthmatics' understandings and experiences of living with asthma and how these might change owing to developing medical knowledge on the human microbiome. A team of scientists in BC is currently investigating the link between asthma and use of antibiotics in early childhood. There is strong evidence that gut microbes are critical in the development of the human immune system, and growing evidence that they are linked to the potential development of asthma in particular. Currently neither expert medical nor lay understandings of asthma include consideration of a microbial component. As evidence is emerging for such a link, there are implications for how asthma is treated and how asthma sufferers experience and understand their illness. For example, will a microbial understanding of asthma lead patients to change their daily practices such as hand washing, house hold hygiene, and social interactions? Might a microbial etiology of asthma lead to the disease being viewed as infectious and lead to shunning or discriminatory practices? How might broader societal discourses of asthma be shaped by this new knowledge?

The psychosocial component of this project involves:

  1. Theoretical and empirical work on the social construction of asthma (i.e., how the symptoms of asthma are interpreted according to dominant understandings that are historically and culturally situated). Currently, we have collected 102 years of newspaper articles (1910-2012) from The Globe and Mail. Using qualitative methods, such as thematic analysis and discourse analysis, we are examining various social representations of asthma (e.g., constructions of causal reasoning models relevant to the etiology of asthma) and asthmatics (e.g., portrayals or stereotypes of asthmatics);
  2. The lived experience of asthma sufferers and their care givers. We have conducted interviews with asthmatics and caregivers of children with asthma about their experiences with and understandings of asthma. Qualitative analysis of this data is informing conference presentations (e.g., poster on the stereotypes and stigmatization of asthmatics) and publications (e.g., a theoretical understanding of asthmatics’ process of monitoring their asthma).