News out today from Asthma UK reveals for the first time that an estimated one million mums in the UK have asthma. I’m one of those mums and when I read that the charity is shining a light on the challenges parents face if they have asthma, it really resonated with me. The charity found that asthma is robbing many parents of precious time with their children. It revealed that over a fifth of mums say their child has seen them have an asthma attack, which is very distressing, and one in six mums are missing out on activities with their children because of their asthma.
I used to be complacent about my asthma but it caught up with me when I had a life-threatening attack in my early 20s. I had come down with both pneumonia and swine flu at the same time, but ignored all my symptoms until it came to the point where an ambulance had to blue-light me to intensive care. I was in hospital for nearly two weeks, 10 days of which were in the high dependency unit hooked up to all sorts of machines. At one point the doctors were ready to put me in an induced coma as they were concerned about my chances of survival.
Thankfully, I made a full recovery but I was signed-off work for nearly three months. What would have been a much less serious illness for most people was exacerbated for me because of my asthma. As crazy as it sounds, I still didn’t take my condition too seriously on a day-to-day basis as I wasn’t too badly affected. My wheezing would flare up when pollen season came around or when I was in contact with furry animals but apart from that, I didn’t see asthma as anything to be too concerned about. This all changed when I had my daughter, Ciara, five years ago.
I became a single parent shortly after her birth. In 2015 I suffered a very serious attack out of the blue and was hospitalised for 10 days. All my fears were not for myself but for Ciara. Who would look after her? Would she miss me and wonder where I was? What if my luck had run out and I didn’t get better this time? My breezy attitude towards asthma had taken a dramatic U-turn and I was now terrified of what could happen to me. Following my discharge from hospital I became an outpatient at the respiratory clinic and attended my appointments religiously.
Even though I had been much more mindful of my own asthma, I suffered another attack out of the blue in October last year. I had woken up that morning feeling a little under the weather but thought nothing of it. That evening, I began to feel short of breath and within an hour was in the grip of another full-blown attack. Thankfully, my family all live nearby and one of my sisters was able to call me an ambulance and look after my daughter. This attack resulted in another seven days in hospital. Another seven days of missing my daughter; not being able to take her to nursery, play with her, bath her and hug her before bedtime.
To date I have been hospitalised three times for my asthma and have had to visit A&E a further three times. I’ve learned the hard way that my condition is not to be taken lightly. Even though asthma isn’t visible and doesn’t generally get in the way of my daily life, I have to avoid situations which could bring on an attack. Taking my daughter on trips to the farm or the park in the wrong season could trigger an attack. She is desperate for a pet but there is no way we could have one. Even simple things like running around with her can cause me to lose my breath and panic about what it could lead to.
Now that Ciara is five, I’ve taught her how to use the phone to make an emergency call if anything should happen to me. She knows where my inhalers are kept and watches me take them on a daily basis. Asthma is an open and honest conversation in our home; it has to be to ensure we’re both aware of how dangerous it could be and what to do in the event of an emergency. I take my condition far more seriously now that I am a mother. I have someone else who depends on me to be healthy and that’s more than enough of an incentive to care for myself and manage my asthma properly. I want to urge other parents to get support from the charity so they can focus on being a parent and prevent asthma taking over their life.
For information and support on coping with asthma if you’re a parent, visit: www.asthma.org.uk/tipsforparents.