I started smoking at the age of 9. Yes, I am very ashamed of it now but we all know that peer pressure has far more influence than it’s given credit for. I smoked all through school, college and into my early 20s. I enjoyed smoking and didn’t want to stop, not until I met my husband who was a non-smoker. After a couple of failed attempts, I finally gave up.
I had two children and remained a non-smoker for 12.5 years.
During one particularly stressful day, a friend of mine was smoking and I asked her for “a drag”. My cravings had never totally gone away. That drag led to a whole one, then a packet and before I knew it, I was smoking again. It took hold of me very quickly.
I didn’t smoke much, maybe 7 a day, but it was enough to get a smoker’s cough. I wasn’t worried though, I mean everyone coughs!
Well, my cough got worse, especially during the winter. I even had pneumonia one year, but as soon as I was better, I’d pick up the fags again. Of course, my doctor kept telling me I had to stop, but as a typical smoker, I was blasé. I didn’t want to stop, I enjoyed it, my bit of stress relief. That’s what we all tell ourselves, isn’t it?
As the years progressed, I started to cough up lumps of phlegm every morning and every time I lay down. That was disgusting and enough to make me want to give up. I’d make it to 6 weeks or 6 months and then start again.
People started to comment on my cough. It wasn’t just in the morning and night but now during the day too, especially when I was around strong smells and chemicals. I wondered if I might have asthma. There is a strong family history and I suffered with eczema and psoriasis, which often go hand in hand.
Getting a Diagnosis
So I nervously went to see my doctor and asked if he thought my cough could be asthma. He replied with the immortal lines “Actually I think you have COPD!” I had no idea what that was. It was really scary to find out that it stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, basically lung disease.
I wasn’t prepared for that. This was serious.
I went out that night as planned, had a few drinks and smoked my very last cigarette.
Spirometry Test and Peak Flow Readings
I then started a year of regular appointments to see the asthma nurse at my GP surgery. She is also a nurse practitioner and able to dispense medication.
The first step was to have a spirometry test. This is a machine that is hooked up to a computer. You blow into the mouthpiece as instructed, some quick breaths others long and slow. It then provides a reading. My reading came out borderline for COPD!
She prescribed me a brown preventative inhaler that I had to take every morning and evening, then a blue reliever inhaler to take as and when I had a bad coughing attack. I was offered a plastic tube spacer which makes it easier to take a full dose. There is quite a knack to using an inhaler.
I was given a peak flow meter and had to take my readings and log them every day. This involves blowing hard into the mouthpiece three times and logging the best reading. My readings then were around 260 – I should have been about 540!
I had to see my asthma nurse every three weeks to discuss my readings and cough. I was still coughing and bringing up a lot of nasty stuff. It takes the lungs a very long time to clear all the mucus and tar out.
Six months later I had to repeat another spirometry test. Thankfully I had moved off the borderline COPD mark but my peak flow readings were still very low.
I continued to see her to monitor the progress. My peak flow would average at around 300, very occasionally it would get as high as 330. That was still very low but it was higher than it was.
I got my official asthma diagnosis after one year.
Four Years On
I am now four and a half years on. I have tried several different inhalers and have settled with a preventer one that seems to work for me. I take it twice a day during the winter and only take it in the mornings during the summer, occasionally needing to take a reliever puff.
I have changed many of my home products. I do not use bleach spray daily like I used to. I only use it down the toilet, but I do that as I leave the house so I don’t inhale the fumes.
I use a fragrance-free washing powder and eco-friendly kitchen and bathroom cleaners that have a very light citrus scent. I don’t use any aerosols or air fresheners. We use stick deodorant now. I am over sensitive to any strong smells. Just someone wearing perfume is enough to set me off coughing.
My daytime cough has pretty much gone although I do think I cough more than “normal people” when I get a cold, and I have had a couple of chest infections following a bad cold. I am now offered a flu jab every year.
I am obviously a non-smoker now, that diagnosis was enough to scare the life out of me.