"I can’t open my window because of vehicle fumes"

Eddie Mills, 43, tells us how pollution triggers his asthma and affects his life as an actor living in London

“When I was in my early 20s I was on the tube coming home from work when I started to feel panicky and claustrophobic. I was struggling to breathe and as soon as the tube pulled into the station I just had to get out.  

“It was summer, one of those sunny days when there is no breeze and all the London pollution hangs about. I walked slowly, struggling to breathe and dripping in sweat for about 10 minutes, straight to my GP surgery. By the time I arrived I was panting and wheezing. I was put on a nebuliser and diagnosed with asthma - and ended up in hospital for 10 days. From then on I had an inhaler."

Working in London

“I have severe asthma, which means I can’t control it with the usual medicines. Pollution is my main trigger but I need to live in London for my work as an actor. I live next to a busy main road, which means in summer I can’t leave my window open as the vehicle fumes affect me too much. If I could drive and there was work for me outside London I’d definitely think about moving to escape the pollution.  

“I am self-employed so I can work when I want to, but no work means no pay. I sometimes have to decide whether to put on my heating or pay for all the asthma medicines I need, meaning I either half medicate or have a cold flat, both of which worsen my asthma. I have lost out on acting roles that require running or a lot of exertion such as a fight or combat, for example. When my symptoms are really bad I can’t take any work that week. But if I do have acting work I always make sure ‘the show will go on'."

Coping with high pollution

“I’ve noticed that I cough more especially on warm days when there’s lots of traffic, particularly buses and lorries, belching out fumes. And when it’s humid as well that plays havoc with my breathing. If it’s a really bad pollution day, I stay in. 

“Whenever I go abroad my asthma improves but within half an hour of landing back in London I’m back on my reliever inhaler. I love to travel, and I thrive if I’m in a nice warm dry climate such as Egypt or Arizona. My asthma disappears! But I try not to let my asthma rule where I go to because I want to see the world. 

“I have a mask – I bought it around the time of the pollution alert in December 2015, when the red dust from the Sahara blew over the UK. As it covers my nose and mouth it looks like a semi balaclava so I get some odd looks and feel a bit self-conscious wearing it. In fact a shopkeeper once thought I was going to rob the place which was embarrassing! With a mask some fumes do still get through but personally I think any pollution I can block out is a benefit to help me breathe easier. 

“Pollution’s in the news all the time these days. It makes me angry that due to government inaction on pollution my asthma is worse. I’m expected to pay for treatment for this life-threatening condition but virtually nothing has been done to combat pollution even though it’s been proven to cause health problems.”  

Last updated October 2017