Asthma doesn’t prevent Jonnie from enjoying the sporting life
To see Jonathan Betts in action, you’d never think he had asthma.
He runs, bikes and swims competitively. His not-so-secret weapon is Symbicort, the preventer he uses twice a day. Bermuda’s asthma charity Open Airways describes it as ’smart’ – a single maintenance and relief therapy inhaler.
“I don’t ever have to reach for Ventolin or any kind of relief more than maybe twice a year, normally if I’ve got some kind of cold that’s on my chest and that’s becoming more and more rare since I’ve started taking Symbicort,” said Mr Betts, an Open Airways board member who shared his story to highlight World Asthma Day. “The idea is you’ve just got that single treatment – to maintain yourself and keep normal lung function but also to act as a reliever.
“It’s all about controlling so you don’t ever get to that point where you’re having shortness, tightness of breath; having an issue. That’s part of the problem with a lot of asthma sufferers – they don’t have their asthma under control so they’re having these episodes, they’re having to go their doctor, they’re having these extreme experiences with asthma. I feel fortunate that by taking the medication regularly I’m able to live a normal life and not have these episodes that require me to grab an inhaler, to feel really tight-chested, to be wheezing, coughing, sputtering etc.”
Mr Betts, 49, was about five when he learnt he had asthma. Because of it, although interested in sports he was limited in what he was able to do throughout school.
“I still did a lot of sport it just wasn’t as easy to do as it might have been for a lot of other kids my age. When I was playing football I’d run halfway up the football pitch and I’d be hands on hips and wheezing and what have you.
“Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all you really got was Ventolin, the classic blue inhaler. If you were having an attack you would take a couple of puffs and it would open up the airways and get you right again.”
At 18 after a “really bad asthma attack” specialists introduced Mr Betts to preventers “at a time when perhaps a lot of people didn’t” have access to them. They changed his life.
“I started to take preventive medication twice a day to try and control and to obviously prevent getting to a point where I was having asthma attacks. Over 30-odd years now I’ve been using different preventers. As a kid I always had a Ventolin in my pocket. I rarely use it now.”
In 2004 he moved to Bermuda. Having run the London Marathon as a fundraiser for the charity Asthma UK, he decided to do the same for Open Airways in 2009.
“I did my first in about 4:21 and I think my fastest I got down to 3:41, nearly an hour off that time. I think I’ve probably done about seven and I’m not plodding around – that’s the beauty of the medications, I’m able to participate just like anyone else really,” said Mr Betts who, in 2012, began competing in iron man events and triathlons.
“I think for a lot of people unfortunately, those that don’t have it controlled, the ability to do those things is really restricted because if they start running or get on a bike they start wheezing. Swimming, just because of the tightness on the chest, can be particularly uncomfortable for an asthmatic. By being on top of it and controlling it, it isn’t preventing me from doing the things I want to do.”
In 2009 he raised about $10,000 and split the money equally between Asthma UK and Open Airways.
“I think maybe a year or so later they said, ‘Hey why don’t you join the board? You’re an asthmatic; you’re obviously passionate about it.’ We’re all about raising awareness and letting people know what medications are out there, what’s successful and what they can do to obviously reduce their asthma symptoms; being able to get access to the right kind of medication is obviously key,” Mr Betts said.
Aside from the health benefits of Symbicort, users no longer have to pay for two medications.
“Somewhere like Bermuda where you need to be insured and prescriptions are expensive, a lot of people might get a reliever but they can’t afford to also get a preventer. The great thing about Symbicort is that you’ve got one medication that does both things.
“You do have to be diligent. It’s very easy to forget to take at times. I’m not saying I take it twice a day every day, but I try to. You’re saving yourself potential issues down the road. You’re hopefully getting to the point where you don’t even feel the symptoms of asthma because it’s so well controlled. I’ve been fortunate I’ve only had one bad episode. There’s a lot of people with a lot worse asthma than me and certainly a lot of people with a lot worse controlled asthma than me and that’s what we’re trying to get people to focus on – being smart and having this single treatment that can control it as well as relieve any particular issue.”
According to Tracy Nash of Open Airways, asthma has traditionally been treated by using two different inhalers – a daily-use preventer to maintain control and an emergency inhaler (usually blue) to treat symptoms.
“Too many people have relied on their relief inhaler as their only treatment as they feel the response/relief after using it,” she said. “The relief inhaler helps with the asthma symptoms of coughing and difficulty breathing, but it does not treat or prevent the underlying cause of asthma, the inflammation present in the airways.”
By using Symbicort and the generic DuoResp Spiromax asthmatics in Bermuda can treat both inflammation and constriction, and simplify treatment.
“These inhalers are known as anti-inflammatory relievers,” Ms Nash said. “They contain the original brown steroid component (ICS) which treats inflammation and a specific long-acting blue reliever (Formoterol) which acts quickly to prevent constriction or tightening of the airways.”
For more information email email@example.com or call 232-0264.