“As a PE teacher with severe asthma, the winter cold can be a nightmare”

Jenna loves teaching PE, but her severe asthma throws up many challenges. Find out her tips for managing her condition and her busy job.

"There’s this “you just take your blue inhaler and it’ll be fine” thinking about asthma among the public. But asthma is individual for every person. Everyone’s got different triggers. Different treatments work for different people – and some people have a long search to find something that works. And that’s me."

My asthma changing affected my job

"I was initially diagnosed aged four, and it was just kind of your normal mild asthma - I’d be in hospital maybe twice a year with chest infections.

"And then, in May 2016 it spiralled out of control and I ended up with a diagnosis of severe asthma. My medical team are trying to work out why and I’m still trying out treatments. At the moment, I have Xolair injections, as well as taking steroids and various other medications. I’m in A&E with an asthma attack every couple of weeks.

"On a normal good day, I can usually get up, take my medication, get my three kids up, teach a few lessons and get to lunchtime or so before I’m flagging. On a bad day, I barely leave my bed. A really bad day happens once every couple of weeks or so, usually at a weekend because I’ve tried to keep going during the week – then I barely leave my hospital bed."

Teaching PE was my dream career

"I started gymnastics when I was 18-months-old. I loved sport and found that keeping reasonably fit helped my asthma. I wanted to become a PE teacher around aged 12, after I had some inspiring sports teachers who understood my limits in terms of my asthma and helped me achieve all I could in sport."

"Now, as a PE teacher myself, the children in the school know they can talk to me about their asthma. If they’re having a rough day, they come to me because I’m an adult who understands how it feels. I also take them seriously if they don’t feel they can do everything in PE. My specialism is gymnastics but if a child leaves our school with a love and passion for any sport I feel I have done my job."

Winter’s the worst time for asthma

"The reality is, if you have asthma, especially severe asthma like me, then the winter is harder. Like lots of people, when I go outside the shock of the cold air irritates my airways, and my chest feels tight.

"Going outside isn’t something I can easily avoid with my job. During the winter, I try to teach more inside if possible – but obviously that’s not possible if you have 60 children and matches to play.

"If I do have to teach outside, there are a few small steps I take to manage the effect of the cold air on my asthma symptoms. For example, I take a hot drink outside with me to help warm my airways up, try to go back indoors as often as possible and I take my reliever inhaler everywhere! And sometimes – at my GP’s recommendation – I take it before I go outside.

"Another big thing for me is avoiding colds and the flu, which isn’t easy, when you’re in a school full of kids with all sorts of bugs! But I get my flu jab and avoid viruses as much as I can."

Dealing with the uncertainty at work

"There are so many frustrations about my asthma, including the day-to-day uncertainty: “Am I going to be able cope today? And what about tomorrow when I have this thing planned?” When you’re stuck in hospital, you miss out on various events, but that’s one of those things.

"Support is really important. I don’t like being off work in the slightest. But my school are very supportive, and I have friends and family around, who are happy to help out with my children if needed – a quick phone call and they’re there.

"I try to focus on things I can control. For example, I’ve struggled with repeated A&E visits, because staff there don’t understand the severe side of asthma. So, I now tend to write everything down: I go in with letters from my consultant about my diagnosis and lists of medication that I’m already taking. I see a specialist asthma nurse team at my hospital every week, who are great and stay in touch outside of these appointments too. I’ve also learned to listen to my body more – to go and get help as soon as I need it."

  • Find out more about coping with asthma in your job by visiting our page on asthma at work.
  • Read our advice for looking after your asthma in the cold weather.