Image Credit: Getty Images / AlexSava
woman looking over her finances, checking how much her asthma treatment has cost her this month

Finances, Fumes, and Frost: 3 Ways Asthma Affects My Life

Reading time | 6 mins
Cróna Tansey is one of the thousands of people living with asthma in Ireland. Though she's been managing her condition for years, some triggers and effects still take her by surprise. Here are three ways asthma affects Cróna, in ways she'd never have predicted when first diagnosed.

***

Over the years, I've had to make many changes to keep my asthma under control. From carefully choosing daily activities to making "asthma safe" purchases, I made these compromises for my health.

And I'm still learning. Figuring out what triggers my asthma hasn't been a straightforward journey. Trust me, some things can still take me by surprise. 

Still, I don’t regret being so careful. All the changes and adjustments I've made have improved the quality of my life. I've also gathered many tips and tricks when finding and developing my "new normal". So, today, I’ll share how much asthma has impacted my daily life... in three unexpected ways. 

1. Expenses: Who knew asthma would cost so much? 

Wow, have I felt the pinch from the expenses my asthma can rack up. It's not an exaggeration to say that asthma has a massive impact on my monthly income.

First, the doctor's visits, consultant fees, and prescriptions all add up. There's no cure for asthma, either, so I'll have to keep up with these appointments and payments for the rest of my life. The financial burden of asthma can be frustrating and stressful. Especially when we’re trying to afford all the other bills and expenses life throws at us. Having asthma isn't our fault. It's just the way the dice landed for us. 

I know I'm not alone in feeling the financial strain of asthma. A survey carried out by the Asthma Society of Ireland (ASI) revealed that the average respondent spends between €100 and €144 monthly (approx. £84-£121 or $112-$161). 

This is quite a bite out of my paycheck. Asthma is also a very broad-ranging condition, so many sufferers could be spending more or less than this. The total you pay often depends on the severity of your condition. 

I don't tend to pay a flat fee every month for consultations and medication. Some months with asthma can be more expensive than others - especially when I'm hit with a chest infection. I've had a fair few chest infections over the last few months, so that was quite costly. Thank goodness my fiancé doesn't have asthma or many health expenses. But they do have significantly more disposable income as a result.

40% of respondents from the above survey claimed they don't take their asthma medication as prescribed because they try to keep down the costs. I found this result very worrying. In my experience, taking medicines as instructed is an absolute must for controlling asthma and any scarily unpredictable episodes. 

I went through a period in my life where I wasn't on top of my asthma symptoms. I wasn't controlling my condition as well as I should have been - it was a huge burden. Of course, I paid the price. I had many unforeseen costs from all the doctor and hospital visits. My mental health suffered, too, from all the stress and upset it caused me. 

I sympathise if you feel like you can't adhere to your asthma medication usage due to the expense. I wish I didn't have to fork out all the extra costs! But adequately managing my asthma is what lets me live my life to the full. I'm lucky to live in a country with the resources I need to control my symptoms, and the medical professionals treat me well. At the end of the day, our health is our true wealth.

Take any medicines as prescribed; you need them. Or you may incur even more fees - or debts – further down the line.

2. Cosmetics: Everyday items can trigger an attack

A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought my cosmetic choices would impact my asthma. When my asthma was out of control, I desperately tried to determine my triggers.

There was a big one I'd been missing - aerosol sprays. When diffused nearby, the strong fumes and lingering chemicals were very hard on my chest. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why I could tolerate aerosols before and not anymore.  

A doctor's visit told me the answer - my asthma was out of control. I needed to find an alternative so I could eliminate this trigger. Without keeping anything back, this upset me somewhat. Many of the cosmetic products I used came in a spray can, from deodorant to hairspray. How could I replace these? But holding my breath after using aerosols - or moving immediately to another room - wasn't doing me much good either. 

Asthmatics are likely more sensitive to chemicals and strong fragrances. Asthma UK recommends using non-aerosol products for patients. Roll-on deodorant and hair powder, not spray, helped harness unwanted asthma attacks. I've even filled my cleaning cupboards with non-spray alternatives. They work just as well. 

But outside my own home is a different matter. While I found it easy to make the switch, I can't control when other people blast their spray cans. In some places, however, a few predictive steps can help. When I go to the hairdresser, I always pack a mask - even during the pre-COVID days. In the winter, scarves are an excellent barrier against unexpected proximity to perfume or deodorant.

After a few outings, precautions like these become pure habits. Simple changes and preparedness have contributed significantly to my asthma management. 

3. The weather: My asthma needs can change with the season 

Winter can be the worst season for people with asthma. My mom's asthma only flares in the earlier or later months of the year. 

My story, though, is a little different. I get asthma symptoms all year round, so seasonal changes mean adapting how I manage my symptoms. Winter is definitely a tough time for me. Cold temperatures and bitter winds can be harsh on my chest and make breathing difficult. I can't avoid going outside often, but I find masks or scarves are practical barriers.

I'm a primary school teacher, too, so autumn means returning to the classroom. If you have children or remember your school days, I'm sure you know how prevalent coughs, colds, and flu are. 

I’ve never been much good at fighting off colds, and catching one (or flu) can lead to chest infections. In turn, chest infections make it much harder to manage asthma flare-ups. During this time of year, I take extra care to keep my hands, desks, and nearby objects sanitised. It can be a chore, but an anti-bacterial wipe or liquid can keep the germs at bay. 

Many fellow asthma patients will know that spring is three months of being assaulted by pollen. Thankfully, the internet can help when it comes to tracking pollen count. Again, masks - or a thin scarf - help provide an effective barrier. I also avoid carrying pollen in from the outdoors by drying my clothes and bed linen inside. 

Finally, summer brings my chance to travel for the year. Exploring new and old places is my idea of heaven - but cigarette smoke, air pollution, and strong fumes are often unavoidable triggers. I won't leave my asthma medication behind when I'm on the move, even if I'm nipping around the corner. I'm always vigilant about carrying my asthma medication, and summer requires even more precautions.  

The takeaway 

Asthma could bring my life to a standstill if I allowed it. Making compromises isn't always easy - and it's no picnic being consistent with these changes.

Many friends of mine don't have asthma. While I would never want anyone to be in my shoes, I sometimes feel a pang of envy seeing people unbothered by cold air, fumes, and aerosol sprays. It can often be quite isolating. My friends don't have to be constantly alert on a day out, whereas I need to be mindful of surprise triggers. 

Still, not being cautious could be so much worse. There is no better satisfaction than realising you control your asthma, not the other way around. I have all the power, not my condition. And I'm choosing to have a good life - the mindful way. 

NPS-IE-NP-00473 August 2022