Woman 'housebound' by smells urges Northern Ireland public to take asthma more seriously

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A Northern Ireland woman says she rarely leaves home because even walking past someone in the street could be dangerous to her heatlh.

Gail Owens was diagnosed with asthma eight years ago after struggling with a constant cough.

She now is virtually housebound due to having developed allergies to certain smells which trigger the condition and leave her fighting for breath.

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Gail, 51, said even walking past someone in the street can cause her severe problems.

Gail Owens, 51, lives with asthma and she’s been left housebound due to her allergies to smoke and perfume. Picture: Asthma + Lung UK Northern IrelandGail Owens, 51, lives with asthma and she’s been left housebound due to her allergies to smoke and perfume. Picture: Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland
Gail Owens, 51, lives with asthma and she’s been left housebound due to her allergies to smoke and perfume. Picture: Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland

"Since being diagnosed with asthma, I have developed allergies to certain smells such as smoke and perfume. It’s gone so bad I hardly leave my house as just walking past someone with these smells on their clothes can trigger my asthma, leaving me fighting for breath.

"I am not working due to my health and feel I need more support managing my allergies. I even try to avoid hospitals as people wear perfume which makes my breathing worse.

Gail, who is from Ballymena, said living with allergies that triggers her asthma is very isolating as she is “always on high alert”.

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" I miss lots of events like weddings and birthday parties. I wish people took asthma more seriously. The smoking legislation needs to be enforced, people still smoke near hospital doors, it’s dangerous for me as it can trigger an asthma attack,” she said.

To highlight awareness of the condition for World Asthma Day, Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland has revealed the top triggers that can worsen symptoms.

The charity’s annual Living with a Lung Condition survey reveals that amongst 179 asthma sufferers surveyed in Northern Ireland, the top trigger is having a cold or flu (82%), followed by changes in weather (75%), cold weather (70%), exercise (65%), dust (61%), other people smoking (53%), pollen (51%), air pollution (48%), perfumes and aerosols (44%), cleaning products (42%) and emotions (38%).

Aaccording to the charity, there are other lesser-known asthma triggers too – including mould, stress, paint fumes, hot weather, pets, e-cigarette vapour, types of food, hormones, a cold home and alcohol.

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On the back of these findings, the charity is urging people to take the simple but essential steps to help cut the risk of asthma triggers causing symptoms or an asthma attack:

These are:

  • If you have a preventer inhaler or a MART inhaler, take it every day as prescribed, even when well – this keeps inflammation down in your airways so you’re less likely to react badly to your asthma triggers.
  • Use an asthma action plan to note down triggers and what to do if you get asthma symptoms.
  • Go to your annual asthma reviews to make sure your treatment plan is giving you the best protection against your triggers and cutting your risk of symptoms and an asthma attack. Your GP or nurse can also check your inhaler technique.
  • It’s important to always keep your reliever inhaler with you. This will help you deal with symptoms quickly as soon as they come on.

Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland said: "We want to encourage the 126,000 people with asthma in Northern Ireland to look after their lung health by being aware of their triggers, getting an asthma action plan so they know what to do if their symptoms worsen, and having their medication and inhaler technique regularly reviewed by their GP or nurse.

"Triggers can be unpredictable and variable, and you should never be complacent about them. Asthma triggers can be difficult to navigate, and some, such as the weather and viral infections, are impossible to avoid. But if asthma is managed properly, being exposed to a trigger should not be life-threatening.

“Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland is calling on the Department of Health to urgently make lung health a priority and introduce a much-needed Lung Health Strategy, helping to ensure people with asthma get the support they need.”

For independent, confidential advice and support, contact Asthma + Lung UK helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).

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