Health

Saturday 30 August 2014

A weight off your chest

Hundreds of thousands of Irish people suffer from asthma, but now there's new hope thanks to a new app that may help control symptoms, reports Ailin Quinlan

Lifestyles: Caroline Duke was diagnosed with asthma five years ago. Inset, presenter Gordon Hayden was diagnosed aged six

It can make me feel panicked when my breath becomes short

One in 10 people in Ireland is affected by the inflammatory lung condition asthma, with a person in this country dying at least once a week from an attack. Despite this, over a quarter of a million Irish people living with this chronic disease don't have their symptoms under control. Ireland has the fourth highest incidence of asthma in the world, yet we still don't appear to have a grasp of just how serious it can be, or how many of us young, old and in between it can affect.

Caroline Duke (27), from Co Louth, has recently undergone a lifestyle change that's seen the effects of her breathing difficulties worsen.

"I've gone back to college in Dublin to study Occupational Therapy, and kept my job on as a social care worker part time, which is understandably very demanding, and time consuming."

As a result her asthma has flared up, due to Caroline being run down and tired. "Since October, I've been on three sets of antibiotics for my chest which haven't worked, so at the moment I'm on steroids and have had chest X-rays this week. This hasn't happened in a while as my asthma is normally under control and doesn't affect my life to this extent often."

Diagnosed with the breathing condition five years ago after countless chest infections, Caroline was a late developer of asthma compared to many, but has experienced the same symptoms that affect hundreds of thousands of people of all ages up and down the country.

"When I'm suffering from asthma, my chest is very tight and sore, breathing is short, and I become very wheezy. When it becomes bad, my sleep is often affected due to coughing and being unable to breathe properly, which in turn affects my daily life."

Caroline has been prescribed two inhalers and steroids to cope with the strain put on her breathing, but finds it's exercising that helps the most. "It can make me feel panicked when my breath becomes short, but I always have my inhaler on hand."

To try and combat asthma's sometimes devastating effects, the Asthma Society of Ireland has launched a free app called Asthma Coach. The society believes that the €533m this condition costs the country ever year could be reduced by stricter adherence to asthma management guidelines.

An app for iPhones and mobile website for all Smartphone devices, Asthma Coach aims to help people better manage their symptoms by allowing users to record and track their asthma symptoms, medication usage and peak flow.

Users may also share the diary and a graph of their asthma activities with their healthcare professional if they wish.

Using the app to pinpoint potential lifestyle triggers could make life easier – adults with asthma miss an average of 12 days of work and children miss 10 days of school.

The app certainly came in handy for 34-year-old radio and television presenter Gordon Hayden thus far.

A presenter on Spin 103.8 and TV3, Gordon was diagnosed with asthma at the tender age of six.

He still carries his inhaler with him everywhere – but it was only when he started tracking his symptoms with the Asthma Coach App that he realised he was using the wrong kind!

"It turned out that I was using the Reliever inhaler when I should have been using a Prevention Inhaler," he reveals. "Now I'll be going down to the GP to get myself looked at."

Hayden thinks the app is a great idea:

"The app also shows you how to administer your inhaler properly – there's a technique to it. It also shows you how to deal with the symptoms of an asthma attack."

Although he was diagnosed with asthma as a young child, from about the age of 12 it caused no problems.

But once he hit his twenties – and started working as a DJ – Gordon's problems returned: "I think it was the smoky air – your environment can bring about your asthma.

'Particularly cold weather can also trigger it as well," he explains.

"Asthma is something you have to be aware of. It's something you have to manage and a lot of people don't manage it properly – for example I wasn't even using the right sort of inhaler!

"The app can be a bit like a diary, it carries all the information and it can help you isolate the parts of your lifestyle that may be making your asthma worse.

Gordon has now learned to control his breathing by doing cardio exercises and jogging, and by building up his fitness levels.

"I'm pretty much on top of it now. I can go out on a night out – though I will always have my inhaler just in case!"

Asthma is a chronic disease and can have a terrible effect on the lives of so many people, says Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland.

"It's essential for people with asthma to have an asthma management plan and to review it regularly with their healthcare professional.

"The Asthma Coach will let them do this easily in a way that fits into their busy lifestyle. The free app can be used by anyone with asthma and can also be used by the parent of a child with asthma to help track their condition," she said.

Asthma symptoms and the need for medications can change over time and Asthma Coach allows for this to be tracked by the user or the parent. Other functions include the ability to set up helpful reminders such as when to make an appointment with the GP, when to refill a prescription, and when to do a peak expiratory flow.

Dr Basil Elnazir, Chairperson of the Asthma Society Medical Committee explains the hopes that the app will reach out to the younger generation.

"[Children] form lifelong health habits in these years, so if they start to control their asthma now this will help them throughout their lives. We can't change whether people have asthma or not but we can help to change their outcomes through management of their condition. The app will help them to do this in partnership with their healthcare professional."

See www.asthmasociety.ie for more information.

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