A woman is using an asthma inhaler indoor
Health

London’s pollution is so dangerous I’m terrified to walk down Oxford Street

Most people have a ritual before they leave home – such as checking they have their keys or turning their oven off.

But for me, I never leave the house without checking the pollution forecast.

That’s because just a whiff of dirty air could put me in hospital with a life-threatening asthma attack.

I grew up in the Norfolk countryside and lived with mild asthma for years.

My condition improved as I got older and I thought it was gone completely, so I stopped taking my asthma medicines.

But when I moved to London I got a nasty shock. I had swapped the clean, fresh air of the countryside for the dirty, polluted fumes of the capital.

I wanted to take full advantage of London life and experience everything the capital had to offer, but every night I’d get home struggling to breathe.

Oxford Cirus station

I felt wheezy and my chest was tight, but I didn’t realise these were classic asthma symptoms until it was too late.

I woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe and had to be blue-lighted to Homerton Hospital in East London.

The ordeal was terrifying – I thought asthma was something I had put behind me, but it was very much in my present.

Even when I’m feeling good there are some places I’d never go – like Oxford Street – because I’m afraid the high levels of pollution will make me wheezy, and at worst, put me in hospital with an asthma attack.

I was given steroids to stabilise my breathing and had to be monitored for eight hours.

After years of living trouble-free from asthma, I knew immediately what my trigger was. The thick pollution blanketing the capital had caused my airways to narrow and left me gasping for breath.

A woman is using an asthma inhaler indoor

After my asthma attack, I was terrified I would have to dramatically change my lifestyle to stay safe (Photo: Getty)

 

Asthma is a serious condition and three people in the UK die from an asthma attack every day. I didn’t want to be one of them.

Determined to make sure this never happened again, I saw my GP every month for four months and kept a daily peak flow diary. This meant I could track my symptoms and avoid my triggers like pollution.

Since then I take my preventer inhaler every day and make it part of my routine – like brushing my teeth or putting on mascara. I never go anywhere without my reliever inhaler in case I get a flare-up of symptoms out and about.

After my asthma attack, I was terrified I would have to dramatically change my lifestyle to stay safe.

But despite my fears, having asthma doesn’t keep me from being as active as I can and I’m a regular at my local spin class. But I’ve learnt the lessons from the past and now I listen to my body – if I have a tight chest or I’m feeling wheezy I’m not afraid to miss a session.

Simple things like checking the air pollution levels online before I leave the house means that I’m always prepared.

Luckily, my friends have been really supportive, and they don’t expect me to travel if I’m not feeling well.

Even when I’m feeling good there are some places I’d never go – like Oxford Street – because I’m afraid the high levels of pollution will make me wheezy, and at worst, put me in hospital with an asthma attack.

Pollution is a real concern for people with asthma, and toxic air has been linked to an increased risk of children developing asthma and stunting their lung growth. It’s a scary prospect that if we don’t reduce emissions and tackle rising pollution our health could seriously deteriorate.

Cleaning up toxic air could save my life and many others like me.

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