Asthma affects about one in twelve people, and ranges in its severity. But just because a lot of people suffer from asthma, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I was diagnosed with asthma when I was four years old, and it’s a condition which my whole family suffers from.
Asthma can be induced by a number of things, from cold weather, to sport to humidity. Mine is normally sport-induced, and even though I take a steroid inhaler four times a day I can no longer play sport that involves a lot if cardio.
For me, risking the feeling of a tight chest and normally a very intense headache is just not worth it.
When an asthma attack strikes, the first feeling is an all-consuming helplessness. The best way to describe it is that it feels like someone very heavy is sitting on your chest, and then they start dancing on you, and then they pick up ten bricks and carry on dancing. It’s horrible, and if you think people are making a fuss out of nothing you’re seriously deluded.
Last year I was in a friend’s kitchen at university and something in the oven was burning. It produced a lot of smoke but we couldn’t open the door and leave because the smoke alarms would have gone off and the building would be evacuated. The smoke made me feel wheezy and my breaths became shallow – I felt like I was being strangled.
Eventually my breaths were more like gasps and I had to leave and get my friend to find my reliever inhaler (the blue one). Because I didn’t have a spacer (the device you take an inhaler through), I indicated to my friend to cut a paper bag which I used instead. It was a frightening experience, but because I’ve had asthma for a long time I knew how to react in the situation, and luckily my inhalers started to help.
The attack could have been a lot worse if I didn’t have my medication, or if I didn’t recognise the signs of an attack. People really do die from asthma, every single day.
Many people suffer from asthma which is much more severe than mine, struggling to control their breathing from the moment they wake up in the morning. But that doesn’t mean people who have mild asthma aren’t to be taken seriously: anyone with asthma is at risk of an attack, and all attacks have the potential to kill if they aren’t treated.
For me, as long as I have an asthma check up every year and regularly medicate, I won’t have any break-through symptoms. I still take an inhaler with me everywhere I go though, especially on nights out, because asthma attacks can be triggered by almost anything Seriously, anything: some people have asthma attacks after eating Marmite.
My Dad has been hospitalised for five days because of asthma, and he’s also had to call an ambulance out on two other occasions. It’s an incredibly dehabilitating disease that can affect your life in unexpected ways.
Because of asthma, I am far more at risk when I have a cold, and when I was in hospital with appendicitis, I had to have an oxygen mask for a few days. During my morning surgery I hadn’t been able to take my inhaler and I’d only missed one dose of medication, but without my steroids I felt tight-chested and dizzy.
So before you sneer at someone for complaining about feeling wheezy, remember: you don’t go to hospital for “having a bit of a cough” or “running out of breath”.