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Tim

Age at interview: 63
Age at diagnosis: 25
Brief Outline: Tim, age 63, was diagnosed with asthma at age 25 although he had symptoms of asthma as a child. He is white British and lives with his wife and has spent some of his life living in Australia. He is an author. Tim describes his asthma as ‘stable and fairly minor.’ Since being prescribed medication, he says that asthma has never stopped him from doing what he wants to do, but he remains aware of the dangers of asthma.

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Tim remembers that whenever doing exercise as a child he felt breathless, and tried to avoid participating in sport. He thought it was normal to feel like that. His sister had severe asthma, but his own asthma was not picked up until his mid-twenties. His girlfriend, who was a nurse, recognised his symptoms and he went to the doctor – he was diagnosed with asthma and prescribed Ventolin, a blue reliever inhaler. When Tim moved to Australia shortly after, he was also prescribed a preventer inhaler. Tim describes asthma as having tightness in his chest, or feeling like he is being choked and has somebody sitting on his chest. After having been prescribed asthma medication, Tim realised that he was actually quite good at sport. He has recently cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats and only needed to use his inhalers occasionally.

Tim has periods where he is not troubled by asthma, during which he does not follow a strict routine of using his inhalers. However, Tim will increase his use of them if he has a period of asthma. His triggers include pollen, cold weather, beer, white wine and cordial drinks. Tim is allergic to cats and house dust, and does not have carpets or curtains in the house. This is partly a style choice but largely due to his asthma.

Tim remembers once having an asthma attack after drinking beer when he did not have his inhaler with him. Fortunately in Australia, where he had the attack, it is possible to buy reliever inhalers without prescription from a chemist, and Tim managed to do this. He now always carries his reliever inhaler with him, and advises others who have been prescribed an inhaler to do so. Tim also sometimes uses a spacer to try to avoid getting a dry throat when taking his preventer inhaler.

Tim’s other sister, who had mild asthma, sadly died from an asthma attack. Tim feels that people are not aware of the dangers of asthma, and advises people to take it seriously. He strongly recommends that if you have asthma, you should keep your reliever inhaler with you at all times. 
 

Tim remembers that his sister had severe asthma as a child, and their parents were very focused on caring for her. His own asthma wasn’t diagnosed until he was an adult.

Tim remembers that his sister had severe asthma as a child, and their parents were very focused on caring for her. His own asthma wasn’t diagnosed until he was an adult.

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Well I was never diagnosed as a child. I realised that I was breathless doing any kind of sport. I was hopeless at sport at school, but I assumed I was just no good at it. And it wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s, even my late 20s, when I had an Australian girlfriend. I was still living in England at the time. But she was a nurse and she picked it up immediately that this was what I had and bundled me into a doctor’s and had me diagnosed. And after that I was regularly treated for it. Before that I had no idea.

And what, when you were a child. You said that you had certain symptoms and you were feeling breathless when you did sport and that kind of thing. So how did you cope with that?

Well not very well, I was a complete failure at sport and considered that I must just be built that way I suppose. I had a sister who was very much worse affected than I and I think what must have happened is that her case overshadowed mine, and that my parents were so concerned about her that they didn’t actually notice that this was my problem.

Nobody at school picked it up either though which is a bit surprising. I suppose perhaps not so surprising for those days because we’re talking 50 years ago, but I just thought I was useless at sport.

And what kind of feelings did you have?
 
Oh tightness in the chest. Any kind of exercise, particularly at certain times of the year. High pollen season and so on I had the usual constriction of breathing in. It was difficult to breath. Every now and then I’d have an actual attack, or what I now recognise as an asthma attack. I think it’s quite astonishing that nobody noticed what it was.

I think my sister had an idea, because she had it herself and I did use her rather dangerous medication once or twice. Which worked, but still nobody seemed to pick it up as a chronic problem for me. And so I just sort of lived with it.
 

Tim is allergic to some cats, but not all. ‘For a while I tried to avoid cats and staying in people’s houses who have cats but strangely enough they don’t always affect me’.

Tim is allergic to some cats, but not all. ‘For a while I tried to avoid cats and staying in people’s houses who have cats but strangely enough they don’t always affect me’.

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And what kind of allergies would you say you have? Or had at the time?

I was tested actually for it, cats and house dust. But then I don’t like cats much, so they couldn’t find an allergy to dogs, because I like dogs. So I don’t know really how widely it is. I’m sure pollen is also a factor because at certain times of year; presumably cats and house dust are there all the time. So, it must be pollen too.

Are you able to avoid the triggers, the things that set your asthma off? Is that something that you try to do or…?

I try, well for a while I tried to avoid cats [laughs] and staying in people’s houses who have cats but strangely enough they don’t always affect me. We spent some weeks living in a neighbour’s house just across the road here while we were having these extensions done, and they have two cats with whom I got on extremely well and they thought I was God’s gift, and they, as far as I know never affected me at all. Whereas other people’s places I can’t go in. There’s a place I visit regularly every, a friend’s house, I visit for a meeting every few months, and his place never fails to set me off, and they’ve got half a dozen long haired cats. So some do, some don’t.
 

Tim thought he was hopeless at sports as a youngster, but after he was diagnosed with asthma in adulthood and had the right medication he started doing sports that he’d never done before. Last year he cycled from Lands End to John ‘O Groats.

Tim thought he was hopeless at sports as a youngster, but after he was diagnosed with asthma in adulthood and had the right medication he started doing sports that he’d never done before. Last year he cycled from Lands End to John ‘O Groats.

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[As a child] it was quite routine for me to get short of breath with activity. That was normal. It happened all the time. In fact it was so normal I never noticed there was anything odd about it. I thought it happened to everyone [laughs].

But when you observed your friends, I’m assuming that you …?

Yes, but as I say I just thought I was hopeless at sport. I mean I could never get into the right, well the right, I could never get into the soccer team or …and of course as a result I developed an aversion to sport. Which persists [laughs]. And I never really competed at anything much. I, there was a clue I guess, if I’d been sensible enough to pick it up, that I was pretty good at running a hundred yards, where you don’t need to keep breathing deeply for long periods. You run more or less off stored energy. I was pretty good at that. But nobody seemed to draw any conclusions from that and neither did I.

When I first was diagnosed I did start doing sport that I’d never done before. I started running for instance. And I still do occasionally. I do a lot of walking nowadays. Just within the last couple of months did a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, so I can’t be in too bad condition.

That’s quite amazing, yes.

Yes. So I mean it certainly didn’t affect me.

And did you need to use your inhalers at all?

Oh I might have used it once or twice, you know, early in the morning perhaps, just to make sure everything was firing on six, but it doesn’t no, it certainly didn’t prevent me doing anything.
 

Tim doesn’t have carpets or curtains in his house because they can accumulate dust.

Tim doesn’t have carpets or curtains in his house because they can accumulate dust.

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We’re pretty careful not to have too many soft furnishings in the house. We don’t have carpets for instance, or curtains. That’s partly out of taste. The carpets are definitely because of my asthma. So to that extent it has made a difference, and sure if, for instance if I go away for a weekend, or spend a weekend in a guesthouse, which for some reason they seem to be universally over-furnished with over-stuffed chairs and loads of deep pile carpets and all that. I can get reaction to that. Yes, it does happen.

And what is it about soft furnishings and curtains?

Oh well I guess its dust mites and all that sort of stuff. No matter how clean the place is but it harbours mites and dust and all the rest of it and that does set it off.

I know you said it’s partly a matter of taste, but is it something that you would definitely think about when you were furnishing a house?

Oh yes. I mean, yes, it would be second nature. We wouldn’t, we simply wouldn’t have carpets in the house, and as you can see in this place we’ve got a few rugs and that’s it. You know. And because you can take those out and shake them out. Not that we do often enough, but yes, certainly it’s a direct result of my condition that we do that.
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