Living with Asthma in the city


World Asthma Day

Living with Asthma in the City

World Asthma Day is an annual event organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. Asthma may be widespread, but many people are unaware that asthma kills. I have been living with asthma all of my life.

After being diagnosed with multiple cases of bronchitis as a child. At the age of 6 years old, I was very poorly in bed, struggling to breathe when my mother and friend decided to call for an ambulance. The hospital said it was the worst case of Asthma they had ever seen. I was hours away from dying. My body had turned blue (cyanosis) which means there’s not enough oxygen in the bloodstream. I was immediately bundled into an oxygen tent, which was the first of many hospitalisations.

Living in the city with Asthma

Asthma can and does kill

According to there are 5.4 million people who suffer from asthma in the UK. A quarter of a million people has severe asthma. ‘Every 10 seconds someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack in the UK. Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two-thirds of these deaths are preventable’.

Key facts:

  • 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Asthma prevalence is thought to have plateaued since the late 1990s, although the UK still has some of the highest rates in Europe and on average 3 people a day die from asthma.
  • In 2016 (the most recent data available) 1,410 people died from asthma.
  • The NHS spends around 1 billion a year treating and caring for people with asthma.

What types of Asthma are there?

There are a number of forms of Asthma: Occupational asthma, Seasonal Asthma, Severe Asthma (brittle), Childhood/Adult Asthma. Some people grow out of it in adulthood, whilst others may become affected in later life. It’s important to understand what triggers your asthma. Mine is triggered by pollen, dust, cats, dogs, grass, feathers, flu/virus/colds and the change in seasons. Stress can often be a trigger too. I take anti-histamines all year round; as there is always some allergen to combat.

Ella Kissi-Debrah

Asthma deaths soar due to air pollution in the city

Unfortunately, pollution living in the city is another trigger for asthmatics. 64,000 people are killed by air pollution in the UK every year – up from a previous estimate of 39,000.

An article by The Guardian states that a record number of people are dying of asthma. Experts have warned growing air pollution and a lack of basic care could be to blame.

In England and Wales, 1,320 people died of asthma last year. A sharp rise of more than 25% over a decade, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. No one must feel this more than the mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl who died during an asthma attack, which was linked to air pollution.

What is Asthma?

Asthma affects your airways – which carry air in and out of your lungs. The airways often become inflamed if exposed to triggers such as allergens. this is what happens with Asthma:

  1. The muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower.
  2. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell.
  3. Sticky mucus or phlegm sometimes builds up, which can narrow the airways even more.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include an asthma cough, tightness of chest, not being able to breathe, not sleeping at night and wheezing. Keep a peak flow diary to monitor your Asthma. If you are using your blue inhaler more (Ventolin) then double up with your preventer (if you have one). If your Asthma is still deteriorating make an appointment to see your GP.

How do you treat Asthma?

If you suspect you have Asthma, consult a G.P. who will send you for tests. Three people die every day because of asthma attacks and yet research shows that two-thirds of asthma deaths are preventable. It is important to treat Asthma will the utmost seriousness. If you have family members who have Asthma, make sure you understand their treatment plan. Despite the fact, there is no cure for Asthma. Many people can alleviate their symptoms with the right care plan. I currently take a wonderful assortment of drugs, but without them, I probably wouldn’t be here.

What is severe/brittle asthma?

I suffer from brittle Asthma, which affects 5% of those who have Asthma. Despite being on medication, you can often suffer from severe attacks which may not always be able to be controlled by medicines. It is really important that you remain under the care of a GP and go for regular Asthma check-ups. I am also under the care of a consultant who is monitoring my progress after a recent hospital admission.

My asthma bag with spacer and letter from my Consultant

How to cope with Asthma attacks

My attacks can come on very quickly, which is still frightening. When you are having an Asthma attack, it feels like someone is sitting on your chest and won’t get off. Slowly crushing you to the point you can’t breathe. Before the onset of an attack, I often get slightly confused which I think may now be the onset of a panic attack. If I have taken my inhaler (using a ‘Spacer’) and I still am struggling to breathe. I need to go to A&E to be nebulised – see the picture of me above. Steroids (Prednisolone) are usually prescribed for the inflammation, but these often make me put on lots of weight when on them for prolonged periods of time. I have just recently been on them for three months!

What not to say to someone having an attack…

It can be frightening watching someone have an Asthma attack. Believe me, it’s not half as scary as having one. From personal experience, this is what not to say to someone having an attack.

  • Don’t panic (that means you are)
  • Try and breathe (yeah, haven’t thought about that one before)
  • This is really scary (yeah no shit)
  • What have you done to bring this on (asthma isn’t my fault, y’ know)

Please consult your GP if you are worried you may have Asthma or are unwell. In an emergency, call 999.