Gennaro D'Amato and colleagues treated an 18-year-old man whose asthma attacks were apparently sparked by logging into Facebook and seeing how many men his ex-girlfriend had friend-ed, reports the Washington Post
Psychological stress is a recognised cause of asthma attacks. In depressed asthmatic individuals, parasympathetic or sympathetic dysregulatio has been noted as a consequence of a stress-inducing situation, said researchers.
According to the facts, as reported in a letter to the medical journal Lancet
, the young man had been taking two inhaled steroid drugs several times a day to control his asthma. But when his girlfriend dumped him, in real time and then un-friended him on Facebook, his condition began to rapidly deteriorate.
Using a new screen name, the man contacted his ex-girlfriend on the social networking site and added her to his 'friends list'. But the stress of seeing her photo on Facebook linked to so many new male friends was more then he could handle and exacerbated his pre-existing condition.
"The sight of this seemed to induce (shortness of breath), which happened repeatedly on the patient accessing her profile," wrote D'Amato of the High Specialty Hospital A Cardarelli in Naples, Italy and colleagues.
The mother was advised to ask him to measure the peak expiratory flow before and after Internet login and, indeed, “post-Facebook” values were reduced, with a variability of more than 20%. In collaboration with a psychiatrist, the patient resigned not to login to Facebook any longer and the asthma attacks stopped, according to the letter published in Lancet
The doctors conclude that the Facebook login was the trigger of asthma exacerbations, in which hyperventilation might play a key role. Other possible environmental and infectious factors were excluded with a thorough history and physical examination.
This case indicates that Facebook, and social networks in general, could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor in depressed asthmatic individuals. Considering the high prevalence of asthma, especially among young people, we suggest that this type of trigger be considered in the assessment of asthma exacerbations, said the team of medical professionals.
Doctors, however, should not be advising anxious asthmatics to avoid social networking, said Max Blumberg a psychologist and research fellow at Goldsmiths University in London.
"One case study does not make for a good scientific study," he said. "We shouldn't demonize Facebook as the problem."
He said that the man might have had the same reaction if he had heard the gossip about his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriends down at the village bar.
Blumberg also doubted people would refrain from using the popular networking site to snoop for potentially unsettling information. "How many people are going to be able to resist looking into what our ex-partners are doing?"