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Social networks could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor for depressed asthmatics, Italian doctors have concluded.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Last week, the news was all good about childhood asthma in Canada. According to a Statscan study, rates have fallen to their lowest level in a decade, probably due to fewer children living in smoky households.

But now, an Italian case study appearing in the respected medical journal the Lancet points to a new asthma villain: Facebook.

The sight of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook appears to have caused asthma attacks in a depressed 18-year-old being treated for asthma.

In a plotline worthy of a soap opera, the young man had been de-friended by the ex but, using a new name, succeeded in becoming her friend again. Looking at her profile, however, seemed to induce shortness of breath. The doctors involved in treating the young man had him measure his flow of breath before and after Facebook use and found that he had 20 per cent less airflow after lurking on his ex's page and was, essentially, hyperventilating.

The doctors at the High Speciality Hospital A Cardarelli in Naples, Italy, were able to exclude other environmental and health factors, placing the blame squarely on his social media use. After working with a psychiatrist to give up Facebook, the subject's asthma attacks stopped.

In the Lancet piece, doctors Gennaro D'Amato, Gennaro Liccardi, Lorenzo Cecchi, Ferdinando Pellegrino and Maria D'Amato write: "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."

Having parents cut out smoking at home looks relatively easy compared with managing this new asthma trigger. How to inoculate your teenager from masochistic lovelorn behaviour? Isn't that what they do best?