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We shouldn’t take healthy lungs for granted

When he got pneumonia, Plamen was shocked by how out of breath he was.

Last February, I had a fever and a cough that wouldn’t go away.  My GP gave me painkillers. A week later I still had a temperature, struggled with my breathing and just generally felt worse. I went to A&E where I was given antibiotics. Another week passed, and my symptoms still wouldn’t go away. By now I also got really short of breath.

I rarely panic, but by this point I was feeling scared

I went back to A&E, where I was told I might have had an infection that had turned into pneumonia. But then I had an X-ray and was told that I might have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  or asthma. I was given oxygen and stayed overnight. I felt better in the morning and, when I left, was given inhalers and steroid tablets.

My breathing improved slightly, and I went straight back to everyday life. I started to read about the lung conditions I might have. The British Lung Foundation website was a great help in researching what these lung conditions were and how I could learn to manage them.

Six months on, I still wasn’t feeling right

Six months on, I still didn’t feel completely well. My GP said I was getting better, and wanted me to keep using inhalers as preventative medication. I still thought I might have COPD or asthma, but had no clear diagnosis.

It was at this point that things turned around for the better. An occupational health advisor at one of my projects put me in touch with a professor at the Imperial College. I brought with me my notes from all the GP and A&E visits, and I had a blood test, spirometry test, chest X-ray and allergy tests to determine if I had any form of COPD or asthma. All the tests showed no signs of those conditions. I was told I’d most certainly had pneumonia, after examining all the paperwork and the first X-ray taken at A&E.

It wasn't over yet

About a month later, I had a relapse and my chest pain, difficulty breathing and sleepless nights all came back. I was on holiday, but was able to see a chest physician who told me it was asthma and gave me an inhaler. This helped massively with my symptoms and after 24 hours I felt better.

When I got back, I saw my GP again. They agreed I might have asthma . The plan is to see how I do over the next few months on the inhalers. 

From what I have read on the BLF website, asthma (if managed properly) is something I can live with. So that is what I’m planning to do.

When our lungs are healthy, we take our breathing for granted

Plamen at the end of the Swim Serpentine challenge

It’s only when you’re faced with breathing difficulties that you even think about your lungs. Being diagnosed with a long-term condition has really made me think about how much we take our breathing for granted.

I wanted to do something to raise awareness for everyone living with long-term lung conditions. In September, I took part in the Swim Serpentine challenge to raise money for the British Lung Foundation. I love challenging myself, and it felt great to complete it despite all the difficulties I’d had for the previous 7 months. I even managed to improve my time and meet my fundraising target, literally the day before the event!

Knowing the risks can help you protect yourself

I’d been a smoker for about 25 years but stopped cold turkey when I first noticed symptoms in February. I’d tried to quit before - becoming more aware of my lung health gave me the push I needed to stop. 

But I live in a city and feel the effects of air pollution, and my work in the construction business means I’m often surrounded by dust and fumes. I know this could affect my lungs. I think we should all be aware of about the risks - lung conditions are often invisible illnesses, and I know first-hand just how challenging they can be.

Do you have a story to tell? It could be about your lung condition, a friend or relative you know who lives with one, or how caring for them impacts your life. We'd love to hear what you've got to say!

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7 August 2019