A north-east woman who developed a crippling lung condition after living amid the polluted air of London believes a simple test could spare her and countless other people from adverse effects.
Kim Lam moved from Aberdeen to the English capital to start a new job in marketing for the Financial Times newspaper in 2014.
But the dream move turned into a nightmare when she was regularly left painfully out of breath – and endured 11 hospital stays within two years.
After moving back to Aberdeen for the sake of her health, doctors diagnosed Miss Lam with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a condition which usually only afflicts heavy smokers or older people.
The 32-year-old, who only has 26% lung capacity at best, believes that if she had been diagnosed sooner, she could have taken action to prevent her lungs from deteriorating.
And she is now campaigning for more spirometry tests, which detect COPD, to be carried out on younger people – particularly those who exhibit “red flag” symptoms such as frequently coming down with chest infections.
The condition is irreversible and has left Miss Lam facing the daunting prospect of a double lung transplant operation should it significantly worsen.
She said: “It is easy to diagnose COPD, it is just a series of breathing tests and a scan which takes five to 10 minutes.
“But doctors never thought that was what I had, because I was so young and didn’t fit the typical profile.
“If you catch it earlier, you can prevent the damage it does to your lungs by making an effort to keep them as healthy as possible.”
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She added: “I had under-developed lungs as a baby and was in intensive care for a year, and any breathing problems I had growing up were attributed to asthma.
“Even if I was diagnosed in my 20s, I could have prevented the decline.
“I was prone to chest infections but could still lead a normal life, and nobody thought to do a spirometry test.”
Miss Lam fell ill after about three months in London, as the polluted air exacerbated her condition, but medics were left “scratching their heads” about what was wrong.
It was only upon returning to Aberdeen, after arranging to work from home, that she was correctly diagnosed.
Despite her condition, Miss Lam remains determined to make the most of life and undergoes intensive breathing exercises, regular trips to the beach with her dog and yoga sessions in an effort to keep as healthy as possible.
The Robert Gordon University graduate added: “As soon as I was diagnosed I did a lot of research and worked out how to protect the lung capacity I do have.
“I can’t improve it but I can stabilise it and make sure it doesn’t decline any more.”
COPD is a group of lung conditions including bronchitis and emphysema that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs, because the airways have been narrowed.
Symptoms include breathlessness doing everyday tasks like walking upstairs, and a persistent cough.
COPD usually develops over time due to long-term exposure to harmful substances.
The most common cause is smoking, however working in an environment where people are often around dust, fumes or chemicals can also lead to COPD.
The condition also means that sufferers can burn calories up to 10 times more than average.
Miss Lam recently had to wear a feeding tube for two months because she lost so much weight after catching the flu in November that it became “dangerously low”.
COPD is a long-term condition and currently there is no cure, however treatment options are available.
Miss Lam is hopeful that technological advances, including stem cell research, could one day hold the key to recovery from the condition.
A five-year plan for lung health in England last year advocated the use of more spirometry tests to improve diagnosis rates.