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Rural Doctors Foundation

Fran Avon

Chief Executive Officer of Rural Doctors Foundation

5 minute read

Living with asthma

What’s in this article

Mandy Willis, a personal trainer, discovered her asthma during a trail run and now manages it with medication and a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Michael Rice advises recognising asthma signs and consulting a GP for proper diagnosis and management.

Asthma affects 11 per cent of Australians, but personal trainer Mandy Willis had no inkling she would be one of them.

Rural Doctors Foundation spoke with the woman from the south-east Queensland farming town of Beaudesert to share her story of what it is like to live with asthma.

Mandy found out about her asthma about 22km in to a 25km trail run at Enoggera when she had to stop with severe pain in her lungs and get medical help.

The special needs teacher aide and personal trainer, who together with husband Parati has three adult kids, has taken daily steps to manage her asthma for the last six years, since that diagnosis.

Mandy, 44, manages her condition with a healthy lifestyle and her daily doses of Breo Ellipta steroid medication and Ventolin for her lungs.

She said finding out about her asthma was a shock.

“I just had massive chest pains and I thought I was having a major heart attack – I didn’t even suspect it would be asthma,” she said.

“Even when it settled down it felt like I had bruising in my lungs and when the doctors examined me, I had the lungs of an 111 year old and even after they gave me some treatment it came back down to the lungs of a 57 year old, which is basically where I’m at now.”

Mandy said living with asthma requires careful management.

“I know what makes it flare up and I know it’s not good for me to be running in cold air, but then on the other hand if it’s really humid weather I need my Ventolin a lot as well,” she said.

“It’s also making sure I don’t carry extra weight, regularly exercise, eat well, do all those things to keep on top of my health as much as I can.

“I don’t think people realise how bad asthma is, and it wasn’t until I found out I had it and spoke with other people about it I realised how serious it can be. I don’t know how I ended up with it, but it’s just something some of us have to manage.”

Rural Doctors Foundation Deputy Chair, Beaudesert GP Dr Michael Rice, said to look out for the signs.

“The signs of asthma are a recurring wheeze, especially in the morning, the night and with exercise,” he said.

For some people it can be a bit harder to notice, like just a cough or tightness with breathing. Sometimes a person might “knock up” more easily than their mates – we see that with kids who can’t run around as fast or as long as their friends and stop to puff and pant.”

Dr Rice said help was available.

“If you’re worried you or your child might have asthma – have a chat to your GP who will ask about wheeze, and cough, and how well you can exert yourself,” he said.

“We’ll want to know if you have relatives with asthma, hay fever, or eczema (all these conditions are connected in individuals and families). We’ll want to know if the symptoms come and go with time of day, time of year, weather changes, or with your activities or colds. Then we might try some treatment to see how you respond.”

Fran Avon

Fran Avon, who is a passionate advocate for rural health. Explore her contributions to Rural Doctors Foundation.