I thought a spacer was for children – it can be easy to get the wrong idea when managing your asthma

Lauren, 30, a production team lead for a design agency in Nottingham, was diagnosed with asthma while studying at university in her twenties. Lauren shares her diagnosis story and how she realised the importance of inhaler technique for managing her asthma.

My diagnosis of asthma was out of the blue and felt strange

One morning, I went for a jog around the village with my brother. I jogged to the end of the street and had to stop suddenly. I just couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t stop because I was unfit – I wasn’t unfit. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having an asthma attack. I had noticed that I kept getting breathless after only a little bit of exertion. It made me wonder if something was happening with my lungs.

Lauren, 30, is living with asthma.

After a spirometry test, the university doctor prescribed me a preventer inhaler to trial and a reliever inhaler to take when I needed it. I remember him saying, “Yeah, you’ve definitely got asthma. There’s no doubt about it.” The inhalers helped my breathlessness. But after that initial appointment, I was left to fend for myself. There was no asthma plan, I wasn’t shown how to use the inhalers or given spacers, nothing like that. I was just given two inhalers and told, “There will be a repeat prescription. Off you go.”

My asthma diagnosis was totally out of the blue and felt strange. I knew what asthma was, but I just wondered where it had come from, and why I had it. It’s not in my family. I knew that asthma was something to do with breathing and your lungs. It’s only in recent years that I learnt what happens in your body during an asthma attack, and that was  through my own research online.

I only got my asthma plan after been admitted to hospital with an asthma attack

About three or four years ago my asthma started to get worse. I was increasing the dose of the preventer inhaler and that seemed to kind of tide me over for a bit. I had steroids every now and again, particularly in winter when I caught colds. Two years ago, I had an asthma attack at work which put me in hospital. This was the first time I got to see a consultant. I was given a new inhaler, and I am much better. I also got an asthma plan – nine years after being told I had asthma – and I was officially diagnosed with non-allergic asthma.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve got to know more about asthma and started to understand how it affects me. As it started to become more prominent and I was having really bad asthma attacks, I realised I needed to take control and find out what I should be doing to help ease symptoms and prevent asthma attacks from happening. I started to realise that asthma can actually kill you if it’s not controlled. This hadn’t crossed my mind before.

I now know the importance of using a spacer

I attend my yearly reviews for my asthma at the GPs. I don’t know if it was because I was with a university doctor or because I’ve moved around a bit, and had to change GP a few times, but in the first few years after diagnosis, it was very much hit and miss as to whether I had annual reviews. 

At one yearly check-up the nurse assumed I was using a spacer with my inhalers. The nurse showed me one and I said, ‘No, I’ve never been told to use one of those, what’s the point, I thought they were for children?’ The nurse explained how a spacer would help me get more medication into my lungs, and how it’s easier to take the medication using a spacer. Now, I don’t use my inhalers without it. At my annual reviews, the nurse checks how I am using the spacer and whether I’m breathing in too fast.

I always carry a spacer and my reliever with me. I won’t take my inhaler without a spacer now because I know how effective the spacers are.  It’s another piece of equipment in what I call my ‘Mary Poppins’ bag, which I carry everywhere because it contains everything I need to manage my asthma on the go. I now know the importance of using a spacer, it stops me losing half of my medication to my throat and the air, and makes sure I am getting the full effect of the medication. 

It’s easy to slip into the habit of telling the nurse that you are taking your inhalers correctly

At my annual review the nurse always asks me if I know how to use my inhalers. I think it is very easy to say yes without thinking about it. It wasn’t until recently, when I watched some inhaler technique videos from Asthma UK, that I realised I could probably inhale the medicine in more, and that my technique could use some improvement.

I would really like to encourage people – even if it’s just once every few months – to watch the videos on the Asthma UK website; it only takes a couple of minutes to watch the videos and check your inhaler technique. We all slip into bad habits, it’s easy to do when we are so used to taking our inhalers every day. When I was watching the videos, I realised I could improve my technique by tilting my chin up slightly, and shaking my inhaler before I use it.

I am now managing my asthma in a more controlled way and haven’t been in hospital since. Things seem to have settled down. I have found a combination of medications that seem to be working well for me at the minute. I listen to my body a lot more too and know when my peak flow and breathing is showing signs that I’m struggling a bit so need more rest.

The Taskforce for Lung Health is committed to improving inhaled therapy and recommends a clear pathway for accurate prescribing and adherence. If you have a story to share about your experiences of using an inhaler for your lung condition, you can get in touch with us at yourstory@blf.org.uk.

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11 November 2020