There’s one thing that’s always on Jenny Window’s mind – when will the next asthma attack come?
The 32-year-old was diagnosed with asthma when she was a child and since then has controlled the condition, which affects the airways, with medication.
It had only ever been mild form of asthma until about 18 months ago when Jenny’s conditions worsened and she now has attacks as regularly as once a month.
‘It’s a constant worry,’ says Jenny of Jasmine Avenue, Waterlooville.
‘Living with asthma is hard enough, but not knowing when you might get an attack makes it even worse.’
Jenny, who works in accounts at IBM in Portsmouth, developed asthma when she was six years old.
‘My asthma has only been very mild until recently,’ she says. ‘I took having asthma for granted before really. It didn’t really restrict me and I would only have mild symptoms like shortness of breath every so often.
‘But in the past 18 months my asthma has stepped up a gear. Now asthma is a big thing in my life. I’ve got reminders on my mobile phone telling me when to take my inhalers and I’ve got to make sure I’ve taken my medication too. It’s a complete hassle.’
Jenny adds: ‘Now instead of mild shortness of breath, I have severe exacerbations. What makes it more difficult is I’ve gone from not having attacks or need for high amounts of treatment, to having severe asthma and having a high dosage.’
Jenny’s asthma is now so bad that she has to regularly visit specialists at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. It was there she was asked to take part in a new study in Portsmouth which could change the lives of asthmatics all over the world.
The clinical trial, being carried out at the University of Portsmouth, is trying find a simple way of predicting asthma attacks.
Jenny, along with other volunteers taking part, have their levels of clotting factors tested three times a week for a year, and particularly when they experience an asthma attack and during their recovery. The study also examines patients admitted to hospital following an asthma attack.
The trial, which is funded by a grant from Asthma UK, aims to determine if changes occur in the blood and urine of someone with asthma in the days leading to an attack.
Professor Anoop Chauhan, a consultant respiratory physician at QA Hospital and Dr Janis Shute, of the university’s school of pharmacy and biomedical sciences, are running the trial.
Professor Chauhan says: ‘We are hoping to find out if a simple test could be developed to help predict asthma attacks. Asthma exacerbations are the most unpredictable aspect of living with asthma. There are good treatments for controlling daily symptoms but we have little knowledge of how to predict an attack.’
He adds: ‘By the time a patient develops symptoms, there is a good chance it will lead to some form of attack, by which time it is usually too late to take action to prevent it.’
Asthma attacks are triggered by an irritation in the airways, which then narrow and become inflamed and/or swollen. Mucus or phlegm then builds up which further narrows the airways. These conditions make it difficult to breathe and lead to sometimes severe breathlessness.
Attacks are triggered by house dust, animal furs, drugs, viruses, pollution and changes in the weather and, sometimes, emotional stress.
Jenny says: ‘It is really scary having an attack and the worse part is not knowing when they’re coming.
‘I wanted to take part in this study because it could help me and other asthmatics one day. If there was a test to predict when an attack is coming, it would be fantastic. It would be life-changing.’
Scientists are seeking people with either severe or moderate asthma to take part in the year-long study.
n To take part, contact Dr Jon Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Su Kerley at email@example.com, or (023) 9228 6000 ext 4108.
VIKKI Foss was proof that is hard to predict when an asthma attack will strike.
The 22-year-old had spent Mothering Sunday in 2008 at her parent’s house and had been laughing and joking as normal. But later that night she suffered a massive asthma attack and died.
Vikki’s father Nigel says: ‘She seemed absolutely fine that day. But then we got the call that she’d had an attack. Doctors did all they could but she died that night.’
Vikki, who was a training to be a teacher, would normally get more severe asthma symptoms when she was stressed. But the day she died she was not stressed in anyway.
The University of Portsmouth’s new study is trying to create a test which can detect an attack – something that could have saved Vikki’s life.
Nigel of Dore Avenue, Portchester, says: ‘Anything that could forewarn of an attack has got to be a good thing.’
COPING with asthma has been a constant battle for Darren Sweeney.
The 32-year-old was diagnosed when he was just one and since then his life has revolved around his condition. ‘It’s hard living with asthma,’ says Darren of Huller Court, Waterlooville. ‘When I was young I spent most of my time in hospital, and spent three months in an oxygen tent.
‘It was hard at school and my education suffered. Now that I’m older I can deal with it better, where as I was reliant on my mum when I was young.’
Darren, who is taking part in the University of Portsmouth’s asthma study, hasn’t had an attack for a year but says it is a constant worry wondering when the next one will come along.
‘I know it could happen at any time,’ he says.
‘Certain things trigger an attack like pollen, grass cuttings, house dust, or pet hair. I could be walking down the road and someone could be cutting their grass and an attack could come on. You could even be in a lift and someone could have strong perfume which could get in your throat and start you off.
‘When an attack does come my chest gets really tight, like someone’s sat on it, and I cannot breathe.
‘Then your lungs hurt and you start coughing. It just gets worse from there. But I can’t ever predict when one’s coming. It’s a constant worry.’
UNTIL Melodie Bailey was 30 years old, she was perfectly healthy. But then she was struck down with a severe chest infection and ended up in hospital. It was then she was diagnosed with asthma.
Since then her asthma has become more severe and she now takes around six different pills a day and uses three different inhalers and a nebuliser.
The 51-year-old says: ‘It’s very hard living with asthma. It’s a nightmare really. Your life revolves around it and I had to change a lot of things when I was diagnosed. I used to be very active and played hockey, and now I can’t do anything like that.’
Melodie, of The Gannets, Hill Head, last had an asthma attack in August 2010.
She says: ‘You never know when they’re going to come on.
‘They are very scary when they do. You’re basically fighting for breath. It’s horrendous.’
Melodie is now taking part in the University of Portsmouth’s asthma study to find a test to predict attacks.