Within a few minutes of standing in Broad Marsh bus station in the centre of Nottingham, Alison Bottomley is coughing almost uncontrollably and reaching for her ventilator.
"It feels like there is a rubber band across my chest that is slowly tightening," she says, "and that somebody heavy is sitting on my chest. The coughing is dry and unproductive. You want to take a deep breath, but you can't."
Alison, 49, developed asthma in 1983, about six years after moving to her home off the busy A606 in Tollerton, Nottingham. During the week, she says, the road is chock-a-block with traffic stretching back at least two miles. She doesn't blame car pollution for giving her asthma – but she doesn't doubt it made her condition a lot worse.
"It exacerbates it," she says. "Particulates, cigarette smoke and chemical perfume set it off. On a hot, still day I have to sit in front of a fan and not go out."
It is her trips to work that Alison says most affect her health. She is a museum clerk at Brewhouse Yard, Nottingham's local history museum. When she started her job eight years ago, her asthma was not severe. But after a month of daily trips into the town centre and through the bus station, she says, it worsened.
"I realised it was getting worse almost immediately," she says. "Within a month I arrived at work and had to go straight to hospital. When I can't speak, I go to hospital. When I'm there – and I go about once a year – I can be in for two weeks.
"When you have an attack your airways constrict; they go into spasm and inflame, and so produce more mucous. But if they are inflamed already then you can't breathe. You want to take a deep breath but you can't. No one knows how frightening it is not to be able to breathe."
Alison is athletic, and dressed in trainers and track suit. She looks every inch the sportswoman she is. She played badminton for years and has run the London marathon three times. She still regularly takes parts in half-marathons. When she runs in the park, she says, she often does so without bother. Once she took part in a five-mile run around the city centre.
"Five miles is nothing," she says, "but afterwards all I could do was go straight home."
She takes holidays in Wales and Scotland, where, she says, the asthma abated; sometimes it vanishes altogether. But she wants to stay in Nottingham. Her roots are there.
"The asthma was triggered by a bout of flu," Alison says. "But after six weeks I was still coughing and I was diagnosed by my doctor, who is an asthma specialist. He isn't convinced it is caused by pollution or that pollution makes it worse, and neither are the specialists at the hospital. They hear a lot of different reasons from different people, I suppose, but I find they don't listen. They know scientifically what the symptoms are, but they can't understand how it feels.
"I was in hospital once and was told to steady my breathing because they said I was hyperventilating. I said: 'I'm not hyperventilating, I'm trying to bloody breathe!' They don't know how frightening it is when you cannot get any air. If they listened to how people felt, they might take more seriously the triggers that people have."
She is also concerned about growing traffic. In her area, which is "almost rural" and thus not too bad for her, there are plans to build another 2,500 houses along the main road.
"That's another 6,000 cars that will use that road," she says, "and it's gridlocked all the time already."Reuse content