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The Question I Face Every Day as a 70-Year-Old with Asthma


It’s is a question I face every day.

My chronic illness is asthma. I have only had asthma since the winter of 2014. I am 70, and learning to deal with this illness has been quite challenging.

So, the question I ask every day is: “Can I go outside today?” Anyone else with type 2 or non-eosinophil asthma would also be asking this same question.

Type-2 asthma is environmentally triggered by humid air, cold air, dusty air, dry air, smoky air, pollen-laden air, strong perfumes or petrol fumes, hot humid air, air pollution, big changes in air temperature, or viruses… etc. This type of asthma leaves me feeling as if I need to be in a bubble.

Of course, I can choose to go outside if I am prepared to wear the consequences. The consequences mean time in hospital and nine days of steroids! Sometimes, I can go outside wearing a mask.

Generally, my choice is to stay inside, run the air conditioner and keep myself busy.

So, how then has this changed my life?

I have to assess risks all the time. I have to make an effort to avoid as many triggers as possible. For example, I am going to a niece’s baby shower and I need to ask everyone going to not wear strong perfumes.

I have had to find new ways of keeping myself busy, new ways of enjoying myself. These new activities need to be mostly indoors.

Even going to the supermarket can be a bit of a problem. Smokers congregate around the doorways. Cigarette smoke is a dangerous asthma attack trigger. In my home city, Canberra, smokers must be a least 10 meters from the shopping center entrances. I wish other towns and states would adopt this measure.

Going to the doctor… every time, I find someone in the waiting room covered in obscene amounts of perfume — so much so that I have to put on a mask and sit outside! Experiences at movies and concerts are exactly the same.

I love flowers. I love having vases of flowers inside but, I cannot have them inside anymore. That is a significant loss.

I can no longer indulge my love of perfumes and nice hand creams.

I like to go for a walk, a bike ride or a swim. Exercise helps to keep stress at bay and it is good for my lung function but when the answer to my question is “no,” then I cannot go outside to do these things.

In Canberra, it has snowed this winter. It rarely snows but this winter has been exceptionally cold. Could I go outside into this snow? Definitely not! If the air temperature is below 16 degrees Celsius, I know my airways will constrict and I will end up in hospital.

Storms are a problem. They produce ozone and various nitrogen oxides that trigger asthma attacks for type-2 asthmatics.

I used to wonder why I would have an asthma attack of coughing after cooking breakfast. I finally realized it is the exhaust from the gas cooktop. From the University of Queensland, “Scientists have found that around 12 percent of childhood asthma in Australia can be attributed to the use of gas stoves for cooking.” Doing a bit of research showed that gas cooking produces nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde. Both are known lung irritants and asthma triggers. So, no more cooking with gas.

I try to keep the environment inside my home fairly constant to reduce the chance of having an asthma flare-up.

So, today, I thought it was OK to outside. The air was warm, all seemed fine until I saw the smoke in the distance. There was a fire just 3 kilometers away. Back inside, and close the windows and doors.

Turn the air con on and let it filter the air.

Today was a “no” day.

Getty Images photo via DGLimages