1 in 20 people with asthma have severe asthma

“People with severe asthma and their families are better off with specialist care. It’s made such a difference for me.”

Celena Dell was given a diagnosis of severe asthma aged 32. Now 35, she’s managing her asthma better than ever

“Getting a severe asthma diagnosis was drawn-out, but it was such a relief to finally know what was wrong. The months leading up to it were an erratic time. The doctors just couldn’t get on top of my symptoms. I’d be rushed to A&E with an asthma attack and need emergency medication, and then I’d be discharged and sent home – only to return again in a matter of weeks. Even now no one in my healthcare team knows why I developed severe asthma.”

Growing up with asthma

“When I was younger, my asthma hadn’t really been an issue. I was born three weeks prematurely and had respiratory problems from a young age, but I didn’t take any regular medicines for my asthma until I turned 16, when I was given a preventer inhaler and reliever inhaler.

“I had a difficult time with my asthma in my early 20s, when I couldn’t control my symptoms and I was having a serious asthma attack every few weeks. But I managed to get it back under control by monitoring my symptoms more carefully, and getting my asthma medicines changed. It wasn’t until my 30s that my asthma suddenly became a lot worse.

Severe asthma diagnosis

“By 2013 I was constantly in and out of hospital being treated for chest and sinus infections. In February 2014, I was hospitalised with a virus and the consultant said I had a post-nasal drip (a build-up of excess mucus in my upper throat), which was irritating my lungs and making my asthma worse. They also found cysts in my sinus and removed these to help make my breathing easier.

“I was so unwell with my asthma at this time that I would struggle to get out of my hospital bed. I was constantly short of breath, my airways felt irritated and there was so much pressure on my chest.

“After I was discharged I returned to work as a university lecturer, but just a week later my symptoms worsened again. During a drive home from work one day I realised my breathing wasn’t right, so I went straight to A&E. When I arrived I could barely walk, and I was so scared because my breathing had never been so bad. I was rushed in to see the doctor who told me I was having an asthma attack and that I needed to be admitted into hospital. This turned into a six-week hospital stay and I was diagnosed with severe asthma.”

Living with unpredictability

“My severe asthma can be variable; I never know how I'm going to feel in the morning, or whether things will change during the day. I do know that certain things can trigger my asthma, including aerosol sprays, perfume, smoke and cleaning products. However, sometimes it feels like anything can set my asthma off. It can be really frustrating as an attack can come on so fast and I have to act quickly. Any delay getting treatment could result in a life-threatening asthma attack.

“I'm proactive at managing my severe asthma – I take it very seriously as I can't afford to be complacent. I monitor my symptoms and make sure I’m always on the alert in case they get worse. I use an asthma action plan to help me stay on top of my medicines, and I always carry an epi pen (an emergency injection for allergic reactions). This is because whenever I come into contact with a trigger, it not only sets off my asthma, but also causes my throat to close up.

Dealing with other people

“My severe asthma can frustrate and confuse other people because I can be fine one minute and then fighting for my breath the next. A lot of people just don’t understand severe asthma and think I’m constantly sick. Some people assume I’m exaggerating how bad my condition is, and I’ve had employers in the past who’ve been unsupportive, so I’ve had to leave jobs. I’ve also missed big events like weddings because of my asthma, and some friends didn't know how to handle it all.

"It’s true, I get ill a lot but I still manage to balance a full time job as a lecturer, a part-time job at a professional football club, and studies for a PhD in Sports Sciences. My family are really supportive and I’m very fortunate to be receiving excellent medical care: I have a very understanding GP.”

Specialist care

“People with severe asthma and their families can definitely benefit from specialist care. It’s made such a difference to me. After my severe asthma diagnosis I felt my respiratory consultant and GP at the time weren’t reviewing my condition properly. I was having constant bad asthma attacks, but they just kept telling me to take my medicine as prescribed. I’m now under a new team and my consultant is really supportive. He keeps my new GP informed, and if I have any problems with my asthma, I know I can just turn up at my surgery and get help.

“My healthcare team have also changed my treatment so I’m finally on the right medicines for me, so my severe asthma feels like it’s under control. Recently, my spirometry results were the highest I’ve ever achieved, and while I would never forget how serious severe asthma is, it’s encouraging to know that the medication is working and I’ve had fewer asthma attacks.”

Celena DellFundraising for Asthma UK

“I’m very positive and determined not to let severe asthma control my life. In 2015 I decided to run the London Marathon for Asthma UK to show people that, despite having a life-threatening condition, it’s still possible to achieve things if you’re properly supported. I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to train and complete the marathon if I didn’t have the support of my new healthcare team. And Asthma UK has been a great help for me since my diagnosis.

“Running the marathon was one of the proudest achievements of my life and proved that I can still do great things despite everything I’ve been through. I’m looking forward to running the London Marathon again for Asthma UK in 2017.”

Last updated November 2016

Next review due November 2019