Monday, 17 January 2011
Viscount Simon And Fragrance Asthma
DAILY MAIL – 9 March 2004
Whiff of perfume could kill me
by Amanda Cable Daily Mail
Viscount Simon: asthma attacks can be triggered by smokers in passing cars.
Despite being one of the Deputy Speakers in the House of Lords, I often find myself being reduced to silence. Not pausing for the right words to add gravitas to the latest political debate, but gasping for breath in the grip of an acute asthma attack.
Like five million other people in this country, I suffer from asthma. In my case, allergic reactions to perfumes, tobacco smoke and chemical fumes have forced me to make huge changes to the way I live.
The last time I went to the cinema, for example, was to see Crocodile Dundee in 1986, and I can't remember when I last sat in a crowded restaurant, or took a train or bus
Any of these "normal" activities will expose me to triggers which could set off a potentially fatal attack. Just the slightest whiff of a woman's perfume, some aftershave or someone's cigarette can bring on an attack in 20 seconds, and leave me fighting for breath.
Safe setting in which to work
It's ironic that a job I inherited rather than chose - being a peer in the House of Lords - has provided me with one of the safest settings in which to work. The high ceilings allow air to circulate, and the many corridors mean I can duck and dive my way out of trouble.
But it is still not always enough. Three years ago, I collapsed and needed oxygen simply because a Baroness tried to sit beside me after washing her hair that morning with a perfumed shampoo.
And last October it even caused a sitting of the House to be adjourned - something which normally only happens when a Lord dies during the session.
I was Deputy Speaker that day when a message was handed across the chamber. It was on a piece of faintly perfumed paper - and I inhaled a tiny whiff of the scent.
In an instant, I was gasping for breath, as the bronchioles - the small airways that carry air in and out of the lungs - became inflamed and swollen.
The Duty Whip saw me struggling for breath and announced: "I think Lord Simon is ill." I had to pull myself up and gasp "House adjourned" before being helped out and given oxygen.
Attacks come and go quickly
My attacks aren't typical. They come quickly and they go quickly. Last week, I had seven separate attacks.
The most serious one was as I left a Deputy Speakers' meeting and walked past a room where a peer's guest was enjoying a cigar. I took half a breath before I realised, and the familiar tight feeling in my chest began
I started taking Ventolin through my inhaler - to relax the muscles surrounding the airways, making it easier to breathe - and went straight to the nurses' station for oxygen. It was six hours before I could breathe easily again.
Ironically, the problems which now rule my life didn't start until a serious chest infection nine years ago, not long after I inherited the title from my father.
I became ill with a chest infection in Christmas 1994, and by January 1995 the constant coughing and wheezing hadn't cleared up. My GP quickly diagnosed asthma.
Of the five million people in the UK affected by asthma, around one in ten are adults, but only a third of these cases develop later in life.
The most likely explanation in my case is that my chest infection damaged the cells lining my airways, making them sensitive and inflamed.
When I come into contact with something I am allergic to - a trigger - the muscles around the walls of my airways tighten, the lining becomes inflamed, and sticky mucus or phlegm is produced, sparking an asthma attack.
Triggered by fumes and smoke
Like many sufferers who develop late-onset asthma in their 50s, 60s and 70s, my triggers are cigar smoke, perfumes and chemical fumes.
I take five daily medications to stabilise my condition - a combination of drugs known as preventers and relievers.
The steroid-based preventers quell swelling and inflammation in the airways and reduce mucus. Taken daily, they reduce the sensitivity of the airways. Relievers are drugs which relax and open up the airways. These relieve symptoms during an attack.
As a result of my condition, nothing is left to chance. I have an oxygen tank and mask in my office at the House of Lords, another in my bedroom at home and one behind the driver's seat of my car.
A couple of years ago, I was travelling along the motorway when someone smoking a cigar overtook me. Even with my car windows up, my chest started to tighten. I had to take a number of puffs of Ventolin immediately.
Then I reached behind my seat, grabbed the oxygen mask and had a whiff as I was driving along.
Can not fly or use public transport
Although I live a full and very active life, asthma has changed my existence beyond measure. I can no longer fly or travel on public transport. I cannot stay in a hotel in case a smoker is in the room next door, or the pillowcases contain residues of dry cleaning fluid.
I can't go to the theatre, restaurants or the cinema. My wife, Mary Elizabeth, has had to change every brand of shampoo, deodorant and make-up which she used to use.
She calls herself my "sniffer dog" because of her uncanny ability to detect a perfume which will cause me problems. Recently, she stepped into a taxi and quickly shouted at me to get back because the air freshener inside could have triggered an attack.
Any guests to our country home are given a list of strict instructions about what they can and cannot wear.
We had a couple of old friends to stay with us last Christmas, and although we had asked the wife not to wear perfume, deodorant or freshly dry-cleaned clothes, her husband arrived with aftershave on.
I immediately needed Ventolin - and my wife had to whisk him upstairs and get him to wash his face twice before every trace of the scent had gone.
Not scared of attacks
Am I ever scared by an asthma attack? I can honestly say that I never have been, because I've always convinced myself that it will pass and I will get better.
In asthma terms, I am the exception to the rule. Apart from the times when I have an asthma attack, I lead a normal life, and I know there are people who are a lot worse off.
Since my maiden speech in June 1994, which was the first time I attended the House of Lords, I live in London during the week so that I can attend debates and meetings and vote five days a week.
I am a Labour peer, and I have a keen interest in health matters.
It isn't only my life which has changed beyond recognition. Because of the asthma, my voice has, too. My natural booming tone has become soft and hoarse because of the steroids I take each day.
But the good news for my daughter and any future generations is that unlike my title, my asthma is not hereditary.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-299652/Whiff-perfume-kill-me.html#ixzz1BJ7BWJt9