Sunday 25 January 2015

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.

"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."

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