Are asthmatics who post on social media one reason why asthma is considered as “just asthma”?

How often do we read or hear that asthma is “just asthma” and an inhaler will fix it all. Everyone knows someone who has asthma but not everyone knows how bad asthma can be and that it kills people. 3 people die each day in the UK compared to the 10 across the United States. I am not saying that 10 is acceptable but compared to the UK it is far better. In fact the UK has the worst asthma death rate for a developed country.

The big question is why do we have such bad statistics?

We have the National Health Service, Asthma UK, 2 dedicated research centres- the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and the Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms in Asthma which is providing asthmatics with cutting edge technologies and trying to get a better understanding of asthma, the different types of asthma and best ways to manage it. Despite having all this, asthma as a condition is horrendously underfunded when you compare the funding given to cancer or heart disease. Asthma is way more prevalent yet still not fully understood. To begin to understand asthma, and the different phenotypes (types) there needs to be a huge input of money much like there is for other conditions.

Why is money not being given to improve outcomes of those with asthma? 

I believe that we as asthmatics have a role to play in this specifically the role that we play on social media. Over the last decade social media has exploded. Everyone (although there are some exceptions) uses social media of some sorts wether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. It is used for both social and professional use and although there are some restrictions in place you can post pretty much anything and it can be available to most who are looking for it.

I use social media in a number of different ways. Through Facebook, Instagram and my blog I can share my advocacy work and awareness about the condition, how I deal with it both the negatives and the positives, and also new medications that are coming out as well. Twitter is an excellent vehicle for knowledge exchange specifically for research as you can share snap shots of what is happening and not need to search a website and read through screeds of stuff.

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On Facebook one of my roles is that I moderate and administrate several support groups for those with asthma, severe asthma, difficult to control asthma etc. I feel very honoured that I have been asked to become a member of the admin team for these groups however it is tricky. Many of these groups can be accessible to anyone who wants and people can post what they want, equally they can post what they want on their own pages too. I believe this is where asthma or more specifically asthmatics get a bad reputation and unfortunately when someone reads something in one place then an entire groups can be tarnished with the same brush.

What am I actually talking about? I often get into trouble or arguments with people because they are not acting responsibly and not taking their condition seriously. This would be fine if they were keeping this to themselves but many are not, instead it is being shared on social media. For example:

“my breathing is really bad and having to use way more nebulisers than I should so need to go to hospital but I have stuff to do first”

This type of thing I come across on just about a daily basis and it makes my blood boil. We have a role wether we like it or not to take our asthma seriously and get help when we need it. Part of me feels that anyone on the outside seeing this would think why should be invest lots of money in asthma when those with asthma are not being sensible with it.

I firmly believe if you need to get help you need to get help, a shower, shopping, housework etc can wait. If you don’t wait you might not be there to do it in the future. No one likes going to hospital and many with severe asthma spend a lot of time going to hospital resulting in admissions and plans changing. It is not ideal but it is what it is.

I have had 2 friends die from asthma and know of many others through my work with Asthma UK and being involved in support groups that have also died. For some of them the reason they died most likely could have been avoided had they got help when they first started feeling unwell. I am sure if I was able to ask them they would say they wished they got help sooner as they might still be here now.

I use the examples of these 2 friends in response to comments people leave like above. This will often cause many to get angry with me but if you are unwell you need help there and then. People do not see this and expect sympathy and attention but if you do not act responsibly then you are not going to get sympathy. If you really want to live then you need to go and get help. There have been times when I have just wanted to pretend asthma is fine and I don’t need help because I have something on and don’t want to miss it but then I think of Dawn and it jolts me back to earth forcing me to get help.

Wether we like it or not we are ambassadors for the condition. The outward projection we give I think has a large part of why asthma is not taken seriously. I am blunt and will say to people that if they want their asthma to kill them then they are going about it the right way. It is very blunt but it is the reality.

I know for sure there will be people who read this and have posted irresponsibly  who will be angry. I do care that they will be angry but at the same time I don’t because what we post on social media can influence others with asthma who may be new to the condition and they don’t know any better and think what they read is ok to do. Remember asthma can kill anyone not just those with severe asthma so those new to the condition may see stuff and think because someone who has had asthma longer than they have must know best and it is ok but it is not. We must lead by example and if we are not going to then we must keep this private and to ourselves.

So how much is social media playing a role in the reputation that asthma has. I will continue to try and get people to understand why asthma must be taken seriously and that when you need help for your breathing you need help and should not go and have a shower etc first because you think this is the priority.

I am an ambassador for asthma as we all are. Asthma needs to be respected much like other chronic health conditions are and it is not acceptable to post irresponsibly on social media for others to see and be influenced by. We desperately need more funding to understand asthma better and if we can do our part to help achieve this we might get there quicker than we are now.

Rant over but bottom line is: social media can be toxic in how people view asthma because of what those with asthma post for the public to see.

RIP Dawn

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May is asthma awareness month!!!

May is asthma awareness month. Asthma is a disease which is so misunderstood. Many will live with asthma quite happily and think ‘its just asthma’ but then there is the small portion of people who battle asthma everyday and just getting up in the morning is achievable because of a concoction of medication and then sadly there are those who live with a empty space in their family where a loved one has died as a result of asthma.

So this month my aim is to try and out something everyday which will show what you can do despite asthma, what asthma has stopped people doing, what asthma has caused, what we have learned from having asthma, the day in the life of someone with severe asthma, work and asthma, sport and asthma.

But for today I am going to start on a high and write about the good side of asthma, its not a great disease to have and has dictated most of my life but having said that if I didnt have asthma I would not have had the oppertunity to do some of the most amazing things which I am so proud of.

Just now my biggest honour really is to be part of the ‘Healthcare Hero’s’ Book. I received an email the other day titled ‘Getting our Hero’s Together’. I am hugely proud to be part of the Healthcare Hero’s but have difficulty thinking anything I have done is special. What I do is to try and benefit people but essentially as I have said before if I didnt do things I would curl up in a ball and become depressed about how much asthma has taken from me and what it has stopped me doing becoming a total recluse. To be in a book with some amazing people is a true honour. Just to be along side a man who engineered a device for his own heart so he didnt have t live a life on blood thinning drugs, or the amazing lady behind compassionate care who has sadly died but her husband is continuing her work. To read the stories in the book or online is eye opening just seeing what people will do. So tomorrow I am going to Manchester to meet up with the other Hero’s from the book and for me I will be celebrating World Asthma Day but also overcoming a really difficult time for me personally so by getting myself to Manchester will be a huge achievement.

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Having a piece of writing published in the British Medical Journal was also pretty awesome. What makes it more awesome is that I always struggled with writing throughout my school career and told I was lazy but it was not until I went to do my second degree of Nursing that it was discovered that I was dyslexic and pretty badly which meant I had a reader and scribe in exams and was given all this help to get me through my nursing. So maybe I would have done better than an E in English at school had I known I was dyslexic. I now have a purple cover when reading books and it makes life so much easier. Back then I never thought I wold ever be a published writer but I am. What is even greater is that it was a learning tool for Dr on how to treat an acute asthma attack and seeing this implemented in practice is awesome especially when I was in resus once and one of the Dr’s said they read this piece about the things asthmatics find helpful when having a severe attack. I was able to write to him on the paper and pen he offered me to say I wrote it. I was so chuffed that it has had an effect on some Drs practice.

My next thing which has helped me through the last few years is my involvement in Scotland Lacrosse. After moving from a field position to the goal (18years after last stepping in a goal) I never thought much of it but being able to play for the Scotland B team at Home Internationals was awesome but then after having to stop playing even in goal I was able to take on the position of Assistant Manager which I was kindly given the nickname AssMan (short for assistant manager) which I have decided to own. I am one for nicknames and never been called my real name except at work and research stuff so AssMan joins Tux, Olive, Ollie (of all spellings), Liv, Livi (again many spellings), Wivvers, Wheezer to name a few, I am sure there are more that I have forgotten (or intentionally forgotten). Being able to go to Florida with the Scotland team in the preparation for World Cup was amazing and probably once in a lifetime experience, but I will be able to see them in action at the World Cup as I will not be with the Scotland Team but will be joining the Technical Crew doing match statistics for the World Cup so will be front and central for most matches- although I will need a lot of concentration.

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But my proudest achievement is being part of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research as a Patient and Public Involvement lead and helping facilitate SPEAK Asthma- the children and young peoples group. Having a role like this has given me a totally new perspective on research and opened my eyes to how much researching actually going on.  It has also given many other opportunities such as speaking at the Annual Scientific Meeting (and crying during my speech but at least I wasn’t the only one who cried!), giving a lecture to Masters students who are doing a Masters in Clinical Trials, I have been able to go to many different things at the Scottish Parliament and was invited to the British Government last year but sadly due to my asthma I was not able to. I have also spoken at events with GSK and learnt about new medications which are coming out and also now do work with Astra Zeneca for their Patient Centricity program. It is so awesome all the things I have had the chance to do because of the centre let alone all the things I do with them such as lay summary reviews, PhD application reviews, help PhD students, the list is endless and I love every minute of it even when not feeling 100% I still want to go to things as its such a great centre and has really given me my life back and given me something to do when I am not feeling great. It is putting a really big positive spin on a bit of a rubbish situation.

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I have things coming up in the near future which I am looking forward to such as the Usher Institute Showcase and being involved in things with the European Respiratory Society as well as getting emails from a variety of different researchers (not part of the centre but from all over the world) who have read this blog and want to get in touch.

I guess having things I am proud of really do keep me going when things are not so good. I was able to draw on these things when I was last in hospital and didnt think I was that unwell but was as my best friend thought I was drunk with the messages I was sending but the admission was really hard especially the 3rd time the ITU Drs came to see me and this was after being discharged from ICU but kept getting worse again and I really thought I didnt have the fight left in me to keep going and not let the attack get the better of me but thinking about all these things I am proud of makes the fight worthwhile- that and thinking of all the Scotland players as they do their insane strength and conditioning stuff- I guess asthma attacks are my version of strength and conditioning although an asthma attack burns and insane amount of calories as I found out from waring my FitBit during one attack!!!

But keep hold of the positive things in your life and these will keep you going and help you reach and achieve your goals no matter how big or small they are.

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(I got this bracelet from a really good friend who knows just how tough life is with rubbish lungs but this saying says it all!!)