Friday 23 February 2018

Asthma costs the State more than just money - it costs lives

CAMPAIGN: Averil Power nearly died from an asthma attack and is now highlighting the dangers. Photo: David Conachy
CAMPAIGN: Averil Power nearly died from an asthma attack and is now highlighting the dangers. Photo: David Conachy newsdesk

I couldn't breathe. The girl I was with was freaking out. It was the middle of the night and we were alone on a dark street waiting for an ambulance.

What was supposed to be a fun night out had turned into a total nightmare.

I was angry with myself for putting us in this situation.

I had known I was supposed to take medicine every day to keep my asthma under control. But, like many college students, I was struggling to pay my rent. I simply didn't have €60 a month to spend on a preventative inhaler.

My reliever inhaler was much cheaper so I had come to rely on taking that when I felt wheezy instead.

I also knew it was not a good idea for me to be in a smoke-filled environment. But it was my first year in college and like most first years I was desperate to fit in and make friends.

When one of my classmates had invited us all to a party, it had occurred to me that lots of people would be smoking. However, I reckoned one night out wouldn't hurt.

I was wrong.

After a couple of hours at the party I had started to feel wheezy and decided to call it a night. Another girl was leaving at the same time so I went with her. I took a puff of my reliever inhaler as soon as we got outside and several more as we walked towards the main road to get a taxi.

However, these had no effect. My breathing deteriorated rapidly until eventually I felt like no air was getting in at all.

The other girl rang an ambulance and I tried to stay calm while we waited for it to arrive. But it seemed to take forever.

The longer we waited, the more I started to panic and worry if it would get to me on time. My companion was terrified, too. We had only met at the party a few hours earlier and here she was stuck in a middle of a medical emergency with me.

Thankfully, the ambulance finally came and after some time on a nebuliser I got my breath back.

These days, my asthma is much better controlled. I take my preventative medication every day, monitor my symptoms and exercise a lot to stay healthy.

However, exposure to cigarette smoke and other triggers still has a big impact on me.

The ban on smoking in restaurants and pubs helped a lot. I still dread going out with a group on warm evenings though, as I know others will probably want to sit outside in the smoking area.

My close friends know I can't but I feel like a killjoy when I'm out with work colleagues or other people I don't know that well and have to either convince them to go inside or make my excuses and go home early.

People assume, because they are outside, their smoking won't have an impact on others. Unfortunately, for many asthmatics and those with other respiratory conditions, that is simply not the case.

Being exposed to passive smoking at concerts, bus stops, in shop doorways and in other public spaces can be very harmful. That is why smoking in such places is banned in many parts of the United States and elsewhere and why I think it should be banned here, too.

I also think it is incredibly unfair that many other Irish asthmatics are still stuck in the same dangerous position I once was. They know they need preventative medicine to prevent a serious attack but they cannot afford to buy it.

While people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses can get their medicine for free through the HSE's long-term illness scheme, those with asthma cannot.

This is one of the reasons why someone ends up in a hospital emergency department every 26 minutes with an asthma attack. Each of these incidents is terrifying for the patient involved and those around them. It is also extremely costly for an already over-burdened hospital system.

Asthma costs the Irish State over €500m a year. Worse, it costs one Irish person their life every single week. Tragically, most of these deaths could be prevented if we had affordable medicine, better primary care and cleaner air.

Countries like Finland and Australia have made huge strides in reducing fatalities and improving quality of life for people with asthma. If they can do it, so can we.

Averil Power is chief executive of the Asthma Society of Ireland. For more information contact the Asthma Society free adviceline on 1800 44 54 64 or go to

Sunday Independent

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