What do you do on days when there is no air??

Today has been one of those days where it feels like there is no air. You are left gasping for breath just moving a few meters and even sitting still feels like you are trying to breathe through a pillow. It is horrible and unrelenting. Not only is there no air and very humid the pollen count is through the roof, pollution is high- just about everything thrown in that an asthmatic does not want to see in the weather report.

I feel like I have clock watched all day willing the hours to go by until it is night and there might be some relief as the sun goes down.

But what do you do on days like this?? What can you do to take your mind off the effort that breathing brings when even eating and drinking is an effort.

Today I have just made sure I have everything within my reach, nebulisers, tv remote, phone, water. Trying to limit the activity and not making any movements that can be avoided. It is tough as you always think you have everything to hadn’t and then you don’t.

I have been lucky today that I can watch the lacrosse European Championships as it is being streamed live which has passed the time very well. I have found I have been dozing on and off too. I am still so grateful that I have my electric bed so I can prop myself up, and relax easing my chest sightly. I am also super fortunate to have a Dyson Cool Air Fan with filter which has been life saving today and on previous warm days. I have had it on pretty much permanently when I am in as it does offer a lot of relief and is not just blowing warm air around. It is actually cold air it blows out!!

When the weather is this hot and muggy I find eating a huge difficulty. I have no appetite and anything substantial that I do eat I find myself feeling like I am choking as I just can’t breathe properly. This is not isolated to when the weather is like it is but also when I am unwell with a chest infection or in hospital post acute exacerbation. I have found my solution to this though!!!

Strawberry Yazoo is my go to drink. Whenever I am not great this is what I like to have. It has all the pick me ups you need but also does provide you with some nutritional benefits too- although you should not use them as a meal replacement I do find that when my breathing is bad these are the best things. I also always have a fridge and freezer full of fruit pre cut or ave berries etc so I have eat them easily and they are not too bulky, the freezer always also has ice pops, ice cream, ice lollies because you just need them to cool down but also nebulising a lot dries my mouth out and makes everything feel funny so the coldness is really nice on my mouth too.

A lot of people have been messaging me today with their tips and tricks for the hot weather. These include:

  • Bowl of ice in front of a fan
  • cold showers or bath
  • driving in the car with the air con on
  • a cold towel on the back of your neck

Others have also suggested going to hospital but I just think that would be as bad except they could give me IV mediation to make my lungs happier but it will still be airless and really hot in the wards- in fact probably even hotter than it is in my flat and then you add in lying on a plastic mattress. I think I will stay put unless things do get very difficult and I am getting close to my limit of what I am allowed to do at home. One friend did say hospital wouldn’t be that bad because ICU has air con!!! I would hope that I would not need ICU (even if air con seems like a nice idea)!

Any other ideas people have for staying cool and making the lungs feel a bit happier please share!!

Pollution and its effect on my asthma

It is well known that pollution makes asthma worse. There has been a lot of information in the press about this and how there needs to be low emission zones in major cities to try and increase the air quality. Recently an inquest ruled that the death of a young girl from asthma was due to pollution exacerbating her asthma which resulted in an attack that killed her. It is scary to see just what pollution can do.

I can see the effects of pollution on my own asthma. Since getting my smart peak flow meter I have been able to track my peak flow for a prolonged period of time. Previously I have always done my peak flow but did not record it (mainly because I am lazy and printing off a peak flow chart on paper was a faff and when I did print it off it would get wet as I keep my peak flow etc in the bathroom with my medication so I just gave up) so having the result blue tooth to my phone has been great.

I have had to ability to print off the charts month at a time or even week at a time if I want. The most useful thing I have found by doing this is the ability to identify points where my peak flow may have dropped or increased and then refer to my diary and see if there was anything that may have caused the dip.

For example the picture below shows my peak flow. The 2 yellow arrows mark when I went to London which shows a significant drop in my peak flow which then increased again once I returned home to Edinburgh. This drop was despite wearing a carbon filter mask to try and protect myself as much as possible.

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I am not sure what else I can do to try and protect my lungs from the pollution in London other than not travel there. The mask I use is high grade, I take my medication, I also try to make sure the windows are shut and I am outside as little as possible so I am not breathing in too much toxic air.

Conversely to this I was recently up in Thurso- just about as far north in mainland Scotland that you can go (except Dunnet Head) where pollution levels are very low I noticed my peak flow actually increased. Perhaps a combination of being at the far north of Scotland, away from major roads, away from major cities with large amounts of traffic and being right on the coast with sea air (sea air has historically been promoted as good for the lungs- it might be an old wives tale).

The chart below is my peak flow and the yellow arrow is when I was up in Thurso.

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I think from this I can clearly see the impact of air quality on my lungs. Edinburgh is a real mixed city as there are some areas which have horrific levels of pollution and other areas that are not so bad. I am fortunate in that I live fairly near the coast and not right in the city centre but it is still fairly polluted where I am.

What steps can I take to improve my lung health and avoid pollution?

  1. I would love to move away to the country somewhere near Loch Tay as I love it up there and the clean air would really benefit me. There is little traffic and no big industrial sites near by. Unfortunately due to the nature of my asthma this would not be feasible as there is no major hospital near me so if I was to have an attack it would be a long wait/trip to get help and to a hpspital
  2. Try and ensure I wear my mask when I need to so I am breathing the best air I can. Despite having a complex about wearing my mask I need to protect my lungs at all costs and if this means wearing a mask then I must.
  3. Keep an eye on the pollution levels and act accordingly. If I know the pollution levels are rising I should perhaps increase my inhalers to counter act the symptoms I may get (I will check this with my team before acting on this).
  4. Get out and about as much as possible down to the coast to breath in good clean air and not stay stuck in the city all the time.

Essentially there is no easy way to avoid pollution but I can see the detrimental effect pollution has on my lungs via my peak flow results. It would be wrong of me to recognise this and not act on it. I must get a plan and put it in place to protect my lungs from more damage which breathing in toxic air might do.

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(Me on the left wearing my Cambridge mask while in London at the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research Annual Scientific Meeting)

Getting over the stigma of wearing a mask in public!

It has been a busy few weeks with a number of trips down to London. Last year when I had a few trips to London there was a clear deterioration in my asthma when I was there. My peak flow dropped substantially and I was constantly feeling tight, wheezy and just couldn’t get my breath or settle my breathing. I took all the precautions I thought I could- such as increasing my treatment, pre medicating before going out and about in a bid to stop my airways getting more irritated. It was interesting to see the drop by almost 150 l/min in peak flow between arriving in London at night and the next morning it was down. It really did not take long at all. What did take a long time was getting my peak flow to come back up. It was not until I had been back home for about 5 or 6 days that my peak flow returned to normal. (The trip I am talking about to London was ironically a research meeting to discuss air pollution on lung health!)

Knowing I had and will have many more trips to London I knew I couldn’t expose my lungs to that level of irritation again and couldn’t afford to let my peak flow drop and need more medication to get back on track again. If I did not do anything then I would be on this rollercoaster every time I was in London or other heavily polluted cities and my lungs really don’t need it.

After some research I decided to purchase a Cambridge mask with a carbon filter in it to protect my lungs from the air pollution when in London or else where.

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I need to point out here that there is a lot of people out there wearing masks such as this or the vogmask which also has a filter in it but it is VERY important to realise that these masks will not protect you from bacteria or viruses. Often there are posts on social media of people wearing these masks in hospital to protect them due to suppressed immune system. They don’t work for that and the companies state that too. Only high grade surgical masks will protect from bacteria or viruses.

I was really apprehensive about wearing it and thought I would get funny looks, pointed at and comments made, but one fo the people I was with in London told me to put it on and my breathing was more important than what other people think. So I wore it and got on with it. I really was not sure how much it would help, if it would help at all or was it just a waste of money.

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Since purchasing the mask and wearing the mask when out and about in London I can say it has been worth spending the money. I was very skeptical and part of me still is as both London trips recently were very close together so I am not sure how much might be just that my asthma was not too bad. Once arriving in London the next morning my peak flow dropped by 50 l/min but it also stayed stable throughout my time there rather than moving around the place. I had some low grade breathlessness, coughing and chest tightness but nothing massively concerning that gave me too much cause for concern. Once back home my peak flow did pick up a little bit but I cant directly attribute the initial drop to London but I think what I can say is that wearing the mask with the filter did impact my lungs and kept my lungs stable. I have had 2 trips now with the mask and things have been more stable as a result.

I am still trying to understand just how much the pollution impacts my lungs but clearly it is as when wearing the mask there is a marked change from pre mask and a change for the better. Unfortunately I will not be able to avoid going to London as there are so many things down there with regards to research etc but using the cambridge mask has made a difference and has added a little bit more security for y lungs and reduce the risk of exacerbation as a result of pollution. I am not sure how much the pollution in Edinburgh effects my lungs but it might be something to consider and perhaps wearing a mask in Edinburgh night help too.

I cant reiterate enough though that these masks are not hospital grade and will not protect against all viruses and bacteria etc. It is a carbon filter. The website does say it filters bacteria etc but speaking with medical professionals and different lung charities they do not support their use for bacteria and viruses protection.