Bad Tropes: Asthma

I have no problem with screenwriters using asthma as a means to give their character a flaw that the audience can relate to, that prevents them from achieving some goal, or as a means to keep them from being too perfect as is often the case.  But I do have a problem with how it’s done nearly every single time.

I can’t blame the scripts.  No screenwriter should bog down their description with a detailed how to about the proper use of an inhaler.  So I blame the crew.  Not the director, not the actor, but every single person who apparently has never come into contact with any functioning asthmatic in their entire lives. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 20 million Americans suffer from Asthma. That’s more than 15% of the US population.  I suppose there’s some chance that many of these crew members have never seen or interacted with someone who suffers from asthma, but I’m stretching to believe that.  Asthma misuse on screen is so prevalent that the doctor who gave me my first inhaler showed me how not to do it, “like in the movies,” before showing me proper technique.

As far as I know, most inhalers are still the wet kind.  These involve holding your breath after inhaling the medication for about 10 seconds.  Too often actors portray this like they’re popping a tic tac and are talking half a second after getting their fix.  Of course, there are an increasing number of dry inhalers which do not require the user to hold their breath.  But in most cases, these inhalers are more for maintenance than emergencies.  I’m sure only people with asthma notice, but I can’t recall ever seeing the correct usage of an inhaler in a film or TV show.

I don’t care why a character has asthma.  I don’t even care if it’s brought on by something that wouldn’t normally exacerbate the disease.  I’m just really tired of seeing someone who has already medicated twice (usually the max dosage you can take at a time is two puffs) in a scene losing their inhaler due to some freak occurrence and then struggling to regain it before their lungs collapse and they die before our very eyes.  Just try and make it at least somewhat convincing.  Make sure the character hasn’t taken too many puffs.  Make sure the aerosol has time to recharge (about a minute) between puffs.  Be realistic with the symptoms (if not the causes) of asthma.

If you’re wondering, the cause of this post was MTV’s new Teen Wolf.  Clearly, I am critiquing quality television.  I mean, the CGI deer attack did cause the CGI inhaler to come flying at camera.  On a 3D TV set, I bet it was orgasmic…


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