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How asthma can be compared to a faulty engine.

James Kell Racing | Asthma UK

I have a limited knowledge of cars, engines and all things mechanical, but I do enjoy driving and the thrill of a race. My basic understanding of an engine is that fuel is mixed with compressed air which has been drawn into the engine through the air intake system, through a long plastic tube into the air filter housing. That air is sent to the intake manifold that supplies the fuel/air mixture to the engine cylinders.

As motorsport racers and enthusiasts I am sure that you pay close attention to the air intake, making sure the filter is clean, the intake and tubes are clear and that the flow of air into and out of your Kart is free from blockages. If you were to fill your air intake with slime what would happen? Would your kart even start and if it did would it perform in the same way?

What if you were to put one drop of slime in the intake every day. I imagine that on the first time you drove you maybe wouldn’t notice, but over time your Kart would start to lose power, start to miss a beat, and you would see your performance slowly drop off, losing power and responsiveness. Your kart would become less efficient, less powerful, slower, it would cough and splutter and become more lethargic and eventually stop.

Now transfer that theory to the human body. Your mouth is your air intake, your breathing tubes are your air filter and your lungs are your manifold. The same principles would apply. If we blocked your air intake you would not be able to breathe effectively, you would struggle to pull air in and you would in fact die. But what if we looked at the process of asthma? An asthma attack is the point at which your air tubes are struggling to pull air in. It is very much like the kart that is spluttering and not performing, and the reason for that is that air cannot make its way into the manifold (lungs).

The chronic side of asthma is very much like adding a small amount of slime into the kart. It is a condition that worsens over time, and the person suffering doesn’t really notice until it becomes too late and they have an attack. An asthma attack is a very scary event for anyone.

In the UK, around 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma. That’s one in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children. So when you are on the grid with 20 drivers, the average tells us that one or two of them will have asthma. Tragically, three people die every day because of asthma attacks and research shows that two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable. 

But there is some good news. With the right treatment and the right support most people can manage their asthma and have a very safe and normal life.

I have worked with children with asthma for a large part of my career and simple changes to how children take their inhalers, giving a better understand of the condition and encouraging a healthy lifestyle has seen these children grow and live fantastic lives.

Using the two types of inhalers, one to prevent the build-up of mucus in the airways (slime) every day, and one to take when the airways are blocked or tight (usually blue), children and adults with asthma can gain good control of their asthma and prevent these life threatening attacks happening.

So if you see a fellow racer, parent, supporter or anyone stop to take an inhaler you know why. And if you see anyone coughing and spluttering, struggling to take air in, call for help.

Head of Children’s Nursing, Paediatric Asthma Nurse and karting fan.

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