As a fresher the first things on your mind are most likely what clubs to hit, the best place for quirky, cheap shots, and how many freebies you can stash into your bag at freshers’ fairs. Your thoughts don’t turn to collecting a couple of preventer inhalers from the doctors and getting that flu jab sorted.
You have just started making some new friends at university, meeting new classmates, society members and flatmates. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, but you want to be you. So how on earth do you tell your new flatmate that the plugin air freshener their mum bought them as a moving in present triggers your symptoms? How do you tell your new classmate that the perfume they are wearing, as lovely as it is, makes your chest tighten when you get within a 5-mile radius of them?
Starting university and becoming independent, living in halls or at home, can be a very scary and overwhelming process. But for people with asthma it can be a little bit scarier at times. The new people you are around don’t know about your asthma action plan. They aren’t aware of your personal triggers, and they might not know what to do when you need help.
As we get older we realise how much we have relied on, and admittedly still rely on our parents for guidance. For those living away from home and living on campus, you must really take notice of your own health. You no longer have your parents around to remind you to grab your scarf before you leave for the day, book your doctor appointments for your free flu jab, and get you to wear a coat or cardigan to cover your chest even though you didn’t plan your outfit with it in mind. To this day I still have to make a very conscious effort to check I have an inhaler in my bag or coat pocket before I leave. Amongst the craziness of fresher’s week and the month or so spent settling in, it can be easy to forget these, but it is extremely important. You have to rely on yourself a lot more to keep healthy and safe during university.
There are plenty of things you can do to ensure this. Asthma UK are a membership-based charity who help support asthma sufferers of all ages; offering advice, tips and tricks and important contact information. They help raise funds for research and campaign to improve the quality of care received by people with Asthma. On their website you can find resources to help you make an action plan that you can fill out at home and discuss with your asthma nurse. The guide helps with what medicine you should take, how to spot if your asthma is getting worse and what you need to do. As well as this, it offers advice for getting through an asthma attack if you have one. It is a really good idea to show this plan to your friends and talk about it. You can even make copies of the plan for them, so they know what to do when you need help and understand your triggers (e.g. turning that air freshener down). Talking about this to your flatmates and friends is no different than telling them about a nut allergy, so grab a cuppa and have a chat. If they are good friends, they will listen.
Some other really good ways to look after your health whilst at university are as follows:
-Grab a preventer inhaler from the doctors if you know your asthma flares up often in colder months
-Put an inhaler in your usual university bag and one in your going out bag – that way you always have one ready (make sure you tell your friends where you put it in case you need it)
-Make sure your flatmates are aware of what to do when you are having problems and what to do in an emergency (refer to the asthma action plan)
-Wear a scarf whilst out in cold weather. Wrap it around your mouth and nose lightly to keep warm air circulating. This is extremely beneficial and something that Asthma UK really promote. (Remember to take that #scarfie!)
-If you plan on joining sports societies, make sure you have told your coach and teammates about your asthma. Talk with your nurse if you need advice about managing your asthma whilst exercising but don’t be scared to join. Exercise is very beneficial for your lungs and helping with breathing problems.
The last top tip, particularly for a fresher, is knowing what painkillers trigger your asthma symptoms. Freshers events, Halloween parties and Christmas celebrations are coming up, and even without the aid of fruity cocktails and tequila shots, staying up late can leave you with quite a headache the next morning. Naturally, when you finally peel those eyes open and the pounding at your temple sets in, you reach for the painkillers to dull the pain. However, some painkillers may trigger your asthma so be careful and talk to your asthma nurse about what is best for you. And whilst you are there discussing whether ibuprofen is for you, have a quick chat about how alcohol can act as a trigger too.
The most important thing to remember during your university experience is to have fun - don’t let asthma stop you from doing what you want to do. Keep an eye out for triggers, wrap up warm and remember your inhaler. Have fun!
Editor – Charlotte Boulton