1 in 20 people with asthma have severe asthma

“My family help me stay strong and motivate me to keeping going forwards”

Kate Harris, 47, talks about family life, running marathons and the challenges of severe asthma

A drawn-out diagnosis

“I’ve always had breathing problems, and spent a lot of time in hospital as a child with chest infections and croup (a childhood condition that affects the airways). I was diagnosed with asthma in my 30s, but in 2009 my asthma changed and suddenly worsened. I fell ill with pneumonia and started getting lots of infections. I also noticed that I often ended up in hospital during my period - when I would struggle to breathe more than usual and had frequent asthma attacks.

“By December 2011 my asthma was so bad I could barely walk and my hospital consultant was concerned my next asthma attack would be my last. I was literally told to sit in a chair and not move! In July 2012 I was referred to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, where I was diagnosed with severe asthma and probable bronchiectasis (another long-term condition which causes a build-up of excess mucus in the lungs)."

Learning to cope

“Living with severe asthma is hard. It's terrifying getting symptoms - it feels like I’m being buried alive. I can’t catch my breath because there’s hardly any air in my lungs, and panicking just makes it worse, as any air disappears more quickly, leaving me with nothing.

“Staying well with my asthma can take up a lot of my time, energy and all of my strength. I try to focus on keeping as healthy as possible and I’m in bed by 9.30 most nights. Sometimes I have to use my nebuliser twice daily (or every two hours when my asthma gets worse) and this leaves me feeling exhausted. I’m on a number of medications for my asthma, and I’ve been taught how to do lung physio on myself – this involves different breathing exercises to help to clear my chest and improve the amount of air that can get into my lungs. I have to do it at least four times a day to help with my breathing. I also have Addison’s disease (a rare condition that affects my mood and causes muscle weakness and fatigue) so I have to take extra medications for that."

Staying positivekate harris in running kit

“I always try to find a positive out of a negative and stay busy to take my mind off my asthma and make myself feel better. I've recently started crocheting blankets for friends and family and I really enjoy running. Since I was diagnosed with severe asthma I’ve completed three marathons and 20 half marathons.

"I absolutely hated running at first – especially learning to run more than three miles - and it’s still not easy, but it’s made such a difference to my asthma. It’s been much better controlled and I’ve not been hospitalised for any chest infections.

“I found the best way to get into running was to start by walking more, then gradually building up to running over time. I decided to start swimming to mix up my exercise routine and I also joined a running club. I now have the support of the amazing Yeovil Town Road Running Club, which has spurred me on so much.”    

My support base

“The support I get at Heartlands is amazing, and they work closely with my GP to make sure I get the right care for my asthma. I also have respiratory physio, and it’s made such a difference to how I feel with my asthma – in fact, it’s turned my life around! Sometimes the bronchiectasis causes my lungs to become so full of mucus that it’s hard for me to breathe easily. My physio, Claire, has been great. She teaches me a range of breathing techniques, including ‘huffing’ - which involves breathing out quickly whilst making a ‘whooo’ sound. This helps to clear my lungs of mucus.

“My family are also very supportive, and my parents have been my rock during difficult times. My sons, Ben, 18, and Matt, 16, and my partner, Chris, have asthma as well, so they understand what I’m going through. They motivate me to keep moving forwards, and Matt is always encouraging me to keep on running.

“Asthma UK has also been amazing, and they were a huge help when Matt was really poorly and I felt very alone. The online support has been great, and I’ve made some lovely friends. It’s so important that Asthma UK continue to raise awareness of asthma and research new treatments. Asthma is always thought of as a mild condition - if only people knew the truth.”

Last updated October 2016 

Next review due October 2019