‘I had to learn to live life in a different way’

Fifty-six-year-old mother of three Rosemary Matthews first experienced asthma in her teenage years

“My first asthma attack happened when I was a teenager. I was outside chatting with my brother and my mother, enjoying the sunshine, when quite suddenly, I began to wheeze.

“I was really frightened, but none of us had any idea what was causing it. I was given a drink of water and, after I went indoors, it went away.

“Some time later, it happened again when I was with a boyfriend. I began wheezing and struggling for breath. He drove me straight to hospital where they told me it was asthma. I was quite relieved to know what it was. I thought, ‘now I can do something about it.’

“I had to learn to live with it, to live life in a different way. There would be things I couldn’t do. I learned what my triggers were and began to control my asthma quite well. My triggers are pollen, house dust mites, cold air, aerosol sprays, the fumes from bleach and cigarette smoke.

“I still have asthma today and I probably have about two attacks a year. I have to be very careful about going out. If the pollen count is high or if it is cool outside, that’s enough to set it off. Cigarette smoke is another trigger, so the smoking ban has been a good thing.

“The first thing you need to learn when you’re diagnosed with asthma is how to use an inhaler correctly. It isn’t that easy. You need to learn your triggers and keep away from those things. If you can’t keep away from them, take as many precautions as you can. Wearing a scarf over your face if the outside air is cold is a good example.

“My asthma is under control now. I self-manage it, but I have had to make changes in my lifestyle in recent years. The things I miss most are going for walks with my husband and gardening. It was my one favourite hobby. I can do very little in the garden because of the pollen or the cold. You have to be careful of what’s in the air. 

“In the last three years, I’ve found I have to stay inside with the windows shut most of the time. In the hot weather, I have to use fans to keep cool.

“I’ve been advised to stay as fit as I can and I have an indoor exercise regime.

“I feel I am doing quite well. It’s more than a year since I’ve had to go to the Accident and Emergency Department.

“It’s very scary, especially when you’re put on BiPAP [bilevel positive airway pressure]. It’s a non-invasive ventilation system to help you get more air into your lungs. You know then that you’re being kept alive only by this machine.”

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