Cold air could kill me, but cost of living means I can't afford my heating bills

Jorda

Growing up in Florence, Italy, I took my health for granted.

I never had any issues with my breathing, and my lung health wasn’t really something that crossed my mind.

Since moving to the UK with my family in 2009, everything has changed. 

Within a year of relocating, I started struggling to catch my breath. It was terrifying. At the time, I was working full-time as a hair stylist and had a very active lifestyle, I never thought I would suddenly be unable to breathe – it made no sense to me. 

Now in my 40s and a mother-of-two, it’s been over a decade and I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been rushed to hospital, fighting for my life in intensive care.

It’s scary, and the cost of living crisis is only going to make it scarier. I’ve already had to make changes to save money that could cost me in the long run.

I have severe asthma, the most serious form of asthma that affects around 200,000 people in the UK. I was diagnosed in 2010, about a year after I came to the UK. Getting diagnosed was a slow process and I was misdiagnosed several times. At the time, I lived near an airport and air pollution was very high.  

Severe asthma is very difficult to manage – regular asthma medicines don’t work for me and people with the condition often find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle of hospital visits due to frequent life-threatening asthma attacks.

People with severe asthma also have to endure regular steroid tablet use, which can lead to horrible side effects like rapid weight gain, weakened bones and mental health issues.

While these help get my asthma more under control, I wouldn’t wish the side effects from steroids on my worst enemy – I put on weight so rapidly that I barely recognise myself in the mirror. 

Even necessities feel like luxuries now – I limit myself to one hot meal a day and switch off appliances that I don’t absolutely need

I worry how this will affect my health in the long-term and the impact this is having on my children, who are five and 15 years old.

Each attack is traumatic, but one that stands out took place in 2011. I was on my way to work on a busy train through London and I could feel my airways starting to constrict. 

I knew I was racing against the clock to get myself to the nearest hospital, or I could die on my daily commute. It was utterly terrifying. 

The thought of getting back on another packed-out train sent me into a downward spiral and after my attack was treated, I had to have psychological therapy. I live in fear of the next asthma attack that lands me in hospital, away from my two children.

Since my health tanked, holding down a steady job has been difficult and money’s been tight. 

Skyrocketing energy bills have been the final straw for me and my family, and I’m really dreading how I will cope this winter. 

The cost of living crisis affects everyone, but for people with lung conditions like mine, cold homes can be a killer.

My electricity bill has already gone through the roof, tripling compared to last year.

I find myself staring at my smart metre every day, watching the costs go up and up. Even necessities feel like luxuries now – I limit myself to one hot meal a day and switch off appliances that I don’t absolutely need.

There is no respite for me – in the spring and summer months I have constant asthma attacks because of the hot weather. My flat has poor ventilation and this summer it felt like living in an oven. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe. 

Now, as temperatures plummet, winter poses a new threat as cold air causes my airways to close up and I can’t breathe. 

Dampness is also a huge trigger for me. My asthma specialist has advised me to avoid exposure to triggers like damp, and I’m seriously concerned that if I can’t adequately heat my home this winter, my flat will become more damp and dangerous than it already is.

It doesn’t help that the lift in my building is often out of service, which means some days I can’t leave my third-floor flat as the stairs are too much of a challenge for me. I feel isolated and alone.

And I’m not alone in fearing for my health and my life this winter.

New research from Asthma + Lung UK finds the cost of living crisis is already affecting people’s lung health, with one in five people surveyed by the charity saying they’ve had an asthma attack because of changes they’ve made to try to save money; including skipping meals, turning off their electricity and cutting back on life-saving medicines. 

Cold air is a common asthma trigger and chilly homes are the perfect environment for respiratory viruses to thrive. 

But high energy bills have put us in an impossible situation, with almost half of people surveyed by the charity saying they’re planning on keeping their heating switched off this winter. It’s a dire situation.

I have an air purifier, which I want to run at night, but the increasing cost of electricity is making that difficult. I’m having to cut back on turning on other appliances like the TV to try to save money.

This situation has had a huge psychological impact on me – I have panic attacks and have developed a number of phobias in recent years, including of confined spaces and crowded areas. I only feel safe if I’m near a main road where I can get to a hospital quickly in case of an emergency.

If I could up sticks and move to a building with better ventilation, I would, but I can’t afford it. I feel like I am living in a nightmare. 

It’s a situation the government needs to get a hold of and quickly – before lives are lost this winter. 

Asthma + Lung UK is the leading UK charity supporting everyone with a lung condition and fighting for everyone’s right to breathe – and is calling for the government to provide targeted financial support to help people with lung conditions with the rising cost of bills and living. For information and support visit asthmaandlung.org.uk.

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