I was first diagnosed with asthma when I was about 12 years old after suffering from wheezing symptoms but it was thought to be fairly innocuous – I was given an inhaler and sent on my way. In fact in my late teens I don’t think I really suffered at all and eventually stopped bothering with my repeat prescription. It came back with a vengeance in my early 20s – I think mainly due to living in cold, damp student accommodation (we were so paranoid about the costs of heating that, with hindsight, I don’t think we had it turned on anywhere near enough!). My own indifference to my breathing and general lung health came to a head when I was admitted to hospital with pneumonia in January 2006.
My asthma doesn’t really have a specific, identifiable cause for flare ups and can just kick off when it feels like it. I know that I have a ridiculous allergy to dust but that tends to affect my skin more than my lungs, I suffer from hay-fever and a bit of a dog allergy but really my lungs suffer most when it’s really cold or damp, if I’m tired or if I’ve had a cold (when I can guarantee it will drop to my chest and leave me struggling for weeks). There’s lots of niggly, and mostly unavoidable, things which cause my asthma to flare up but all too often I have no idea what’s causing it to be wobbly.
Obviously the unpredictable nature of my asthma is fairly naff but, over the years, with the help of some pretty hardcore lung relaxants and a fantastic asthma nurse, my asthma is currently well controlled. I have an annual check up which has essentially become a bit of a box-ticking exercise, in fact at my asthma review earlier this month I was told I’ve not had a chest infection or steroids in over a year, which feels like something of an achievement!
10 Reasons Asthma Blows
1. Having to pay for the privilege of comfortable breathing
This is something which has always riled me. Certain medical conditions mean a blanket exemption on prescription charges, which is fair enough. They are usually life threatening conditions and ones where prevention is almost certainly better than cure. I don’t think having asthma should necessitate a blanket exemption on prescription charges but I do think that inhalers, steroids and antibiotics for chest infections should be exempt from charge. There’s been plenty of times over the years where I’ve put off getting medical attention or a repeat prescription as I simply couldn’t afford the medication. For about four years now I’ve been paying for a Prescription Prepayment Certificate which means that for a monthly fee I can get as many prescription items as I need – and as such don’t need to worry about the cost of a chest infection etc however I still resent paying for the privilege of being able to breath comfortably. Asthma is a potentially life threatening condition and treating poorly managed asthma is expensive and could be avoided. Asthma UK are currently campaigning to have this situation reviewed.
2. Not being able to run outside (or even walk quickly) in the cold
For me, cold air is a nightmare. Breathing in cold air causes my lungs to tighten and I struggle to catch my breath. This is a common problem affecting three out of four asthma suffers and as such we are encouraged to wear scarves over our mouths and noses to take the edge off that cold air. I have to take my time out in the cold – not rush about anywhere, walking to fast (or heaven forbid attempting to run) just takes too long to recover from!
Asthma and allergies tend to go hand in hand. I first had allergy testing done in my teens to see what might be affecting my eczema. The patch tests showed an allergy to rubber but nothing else. I didn’t have any further allergy testing done until my mid 30s when my asthma nurse was keen to find out if there was anything which could be causing the seemingly constant problems I was having. My blood tests showed an allergy to dogs (which I’d already figured out some years earlier) and dust. She prescribed me with a strong antihistamine which I now take daily. I actually think my allergies tend to affect my skin more than my breathing – dust in particular causing chronic urticaria which lasts for weeks at a time.
4. Having to remember to carry an inhaler
My current asthma medication is a preventative and relieving inhaler all bundled into one. I take my inhaler first thing in the morning and last thing at night for prevention and then can take it up to six times during the course of the day as needed. (Clearly at the point where I’m taking my inhaler six or seven times in a day I need to be seeking medical attention – mostly I don’t really take it during the day at all!) I keep one inhaler by my bed and one in my room at my parent’s house, there’s one in my car and one in Dave’s and I try to keep them in all of my handbags – that way I don’t need to remember to pick one up if I’m going out somewhere. When my asthma is settled, I do tend to be more slack about remembering to carry an inhaler and then you just know I’m going to get caught out don’t you!
5. Pointless check ups
My annual asthma review is now nothing more than a box ticking exercise – they weigh me, do my peak flow and ask me some questions about how often I take my medication – to my mind this seems like a bit of a waste of time and I think it would make more sense to allow me to complete that questionnaire online and then be asked to make an appointment if anything were red flagged.
My previous asthma nurse was amazing – she was so thorough with her checks, carrying out blood tests and spirometry, explaining things to me and making sure I really took care of myself. Thanks to her, my asthma is now under control and my annual asthma reviews feel something of a waste of time – if I needed seeing, I would make an appointment. I suppose you can’t trust that everyone is keeping track of their symptoms and managing them.
6. Knowing that when you get a cold it will likely hit your chest
Nobody likes to be full of cold, being bunged up and fuzzy headed is no fun but I can absolutely guarantee that any time I get a cold, it will drop to my chest leaving me coughing mucus and struggling to breath. (In all honesty though, I find it easier to deal with a cold on my chest than in my face – at least I can think straight then!) Having a cold can take a few weeks to recover from as a result.
7. Not being able to sleep because you can’t breathe
Not being able to sleep because you can’t breathe is probably one of the things I hate most about being asthmatic. For a long time I didn’t actually realise that not being able to sleep should be a trigger for seeking medical attention. I’ve breathed through more bad nights than I care to count before I realised that if I couldn’t sleep I needed to be getting to the GP and being properly checked out.
What’s really annoying is when you can’t breathe properly in the night but don’t actually wake up – I often dream about not being short of breath only to wake up wheezing in the morning. If I’d just woken up properly I could have taken my inhaler and gone back to sleep!
8. Random aches and pains in your upper body
This is a bit of a funny one – my asthma is more than just a wheeze or shortness of breathe. It can make my upper body really sore and achey. I think this is mostly a throw back to when had pneumonia and that there is perhaps some scarring on my lungs that flares up when my chest is bad or that I have a tendency towards pleurisy. I tend to find that heat and pain killers are the best bet when it’s sore.
I didn’t really start to suffer from hay-fever until my late 20s. And even then it’s nothing on the scale as to what my poor sister suffers. I know the summer I was pregnant with Ben and trying to avoid taking antihistamines was a nightmare. In recent years hay-fever has been considerably less of an issue for me thanks to those heavy duty antihistamines I mentioned earlier!
10. Always getting stopped at airport security
Pretty much every flight I go on, I get swabbed or my bags get put to one side for extra checks. It took me a while to clock onto the fact that it was my medication that was flagging me up! (It’s worth noting that you have to put your inhalers in clear plastic bags the same as you do liquids for hand luggage but they’ve usually allowed me a second one for this rather than making it take up valuable space I could be using for cosmetics!)
Being asthmatic myself does make me super paranoid about my own children’s breathing and a few years ago I thought Chloe was showing signs of being asthmatic but thankfully that seemed to pass. Amy is prone to coughs and will wheeze a bit when she’s got a cold but it doesn’t seem to have become anything more than that as yet.
Obviously being asthmatic is rubbish and of course I would choose not to be given half the chance, but I know that in the scheme of things it’s not the bad – there are far worse things I could suffer from than my dodgy lungs.
Do you suffer from asthma? What would you add to the list?