A man appeared to have several asthma attacks which five doctors from Italy explain appeared after he had logged into Facebook and gone to a specific page, according to a Correspondence in today’s issue of The Lancet. The doctors explain that seeing his girlfriend’s details on Facebook seemed to bring on hyperventilation and then asthma.

The man, 18, was very sad because his sweetheart had jilted him. She had also erased all details of him from her Facebook, while at the same time developing friendships with young men.

The man assumed a new Facebook nickname, and disguised as such managed to become her online friend. He eventually got to view her photograph in the profile section of her Facebook.

On seeing the photograph, he would become short of breath. This would occur several times, and only when looking at her profile, with the photo of her on that page.

Dr Gennaro D’Amato, High Speciality Hospital A Cardarelli, Naples, Italy, said:

    “The (man’s) 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.”

The physicians suggest that the man’s asthma attacks were caused by seeing the girl’s photograph; this caused him to hyperventilate, triggering an asthma attack. They had excluded other variables which might have contributed towards his asthma, such as infectious or environmental factors. They also gave the man a thorough physical examination and checked his medical and family history carefully.

The authors concluded:

    “This case indicates that Facebook, and social networks in general, could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor for exacerbations 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.”

Facebook, launched in 2004, is an online social network service. It belongs to Facebook Inc. In July this year it had over 500 million active users globally. Users can create their own personal profile, add friends, exchange messages, and have notifications sent whenever there is an update in the profile.

Facebook is also a venue for interest groups, either professional, school groups, or college ones. Anyone who claims to be 13 years old or more can register and become a Facebook user. This social network service was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. The company has 1,400 employees and offices in eight countries.

“Facebook: a new trigger for asthma?”
Gennaro D’Amato, Gennaro Liccardi, Lorenzo Cecchi, Ferdinando Pellegrino, Maria D’Amato
The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9754, Page 1740, 20 November 2010

Written by Christian Nordqvist