Melissa, age 37, was diagnosed with asthma at age 16. She is white British, and lives with her partner and two children who both also have asthma. Melissa remembers always feeling breathless and wheezy. At first she was upset by being diagnosed with a chronic condition and knowing that she would have to take regular medication, and as a young person feels she wasn’t very vigilant about using her inhalers, but as she has become older she feels more accepting of her condition, and more confident in her ability to self-manage things.
Melissa was diagnosed with asthma when she was 16, although she recalls that she had always had symptoms but that they hadn’t been recognised as asthma. Her mother’s boyfriend had asthma and had said occasionally that he thought it looked like Melissa might be asthmatic, but her mother was quite resistant to the idea and thought she was all right as it was normal’ for her to be breathless and feel tight in the chest quite frequently. One day at school she fainted, and so went to see the doctor for a check- up, at which point the doctor picked up on her breathlessness and did some tests to establish that it was in fact asthma.
It took quite a while for Melissa to come to terms with the diagnosis of asthma because she had to try several different types and strengths of medication before she found the right combination of inhalers and dosage, and she was also struggling with the whole idea of having been diagnosed with a chronic health condition as a teenager. At that time she found it restrictive and wanted the problem to just go away, whereas in fact at first she had to keep returning to the doctors so that they could establish what the right dose and type of medication would work for her. Initially she found that the brown preventer inhaler made her feel shaky after taking it which she said could feel quite scary at that age, but gradually that settled down and she became accustomed to using it. Melissa recalls that having asthma, and using inhalers could be things that other young people might tease or bully her about, so she tended to keep quiet about it and used to try to use the inhalers in private when nobody could see. At school Melissa tried not to let her asthma get in the way of things and apart from not being able to participate properly at sport did not feel that she was overly restricted.
For a time Melissa found that she was able to manage her asthma successfully and things were under control, but about five years ago she noticed the medication was having less effect and she was prescribed an extra and higher strength inhaler to use which upset her as it made her feel conscious that her asthma had seemed to change and worsen. She has found it frustrating when things have changed, as it means having to get used to different medication, and experiencing more symptoms until the right new dose of medication is established. She also recalls that when she was younger she wasn’t always disciplined enough in taking the medication regularly and would sometimes miss several doses of her inhalers, which would make her asthma flare up and become worse. Part of this might have been to do with wanting to be doing other things and forgetting to use the inhalers, but she also recognises looking back that she felt frustrated about having been diagnosed with asthma and was perhaps acting out a sense of denial about it. Now that she is older she feels she has more understanding and ability to take a more structured and routine approach to taking the medication and is able to see how important it is to use the preventer inhaler even when you are feeling well. Nowadays Melissa has a regular annual asthma review with the asthma nurse at her GP surgery, and if she is having any problems will make an appointment to see the asthma nurse for a check-up. She feels now that her asthma is being monitored well, in comparison to when she was younger when she feels she was left to get on with things herself without much help or input from health professionals. She says that at the time she was diagnosed nobody showed her how to use the inhalers correctly, or checked her technique. Now that she is more experienced she realises that this is very important, and can make a big difference.
More recently things have improved somewhat and she has gone back to using two lower dose inhalers again, but has always found she has needed to use the ventolin (blue reliever) fairly regularly, and ensures she always carries one with her wherever she goes.
The main triggers for Melissa are dust, and cold weather. When she is outside in cold weather her chest will feel tight and she can become breathless quite quickly, so if she is out shopping or walking she may have to use her blue inhaler a couple of times to relieve the symptoms.
Both of Melissa’s children have asthma and she sometimes feels guilty about having passed it on to them. Her son has severe asthma and has been hospitalised several times, and her daughter’s asthma is more manageable. She recalls how scary it could be to see your child unable to breathe and having to make a very young baby take the medication can be both difficult and upsetting.