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scientists comment on letter in the Lancet linking Facebook with asthma

A group of doctors wrote to the Lancet about the case of a man who suffered asthma attacks after viewing photographs of his ex-girlfriend on the social networking site Facebook


Prof Neil Barnes, Asthma Expert and British Lung Foundation spokesperson, said:

“If someone has a medical condition, one common psychological factor that can cause a flare up is stress. However I do not think that this link can be made with social networking sites such as Facebook, especially given this study uses a sample of one. Any situation where someone gets stressed could result in their condition worsening and in this one case it seems Facebook happened to be that situation.”


Prof Jon Ayres, Professor of Environmental and Respiratory Medicine, Director of IOEM (Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), University of Birmingham, said:

“The issue of psychological stress triggering asthma is as old as the hills. In Victorian times asthma was regarded as a ‘neurotic disease’. Asthma attacks induced by stressful situations are common and in the 1970s studies showed that in some people with asthma, attacks could be induced through the power of suggestion. We see people brought in with asthma attacks who have just come from funerals or other stressful situations; this is nothing new. I guess that Facebook simply provides another way in which susceptible people can be exposed to stressful situations.

“As to being a primary cause of the development of asthma, I regard psychological stress as a very minor cause. This is a somewhat interesting case study but very little more than that and I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid networking sites as a result.”


Prof Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool, said:

“Psychological factors are implicated in a wide range of physical health problems and asthma is no different. People get stressed by watching the news, their partner slamming the door too loud or any other number of things. So what are we going to do, avoid all the varied aspects of modern life? Social networks and gritty documentaries are important to people and unless you’re going to live in a bubble some things will stress people out. People with asthma shouldn’t be avoiding these things; they should just bear it in mind.

“This case study is interesting but only tells us what we already know. People shouldn’t over-react and certainly shouldn’t be stopping doing the things they enjoy as a result.”


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