Asthma did not stop his golden streak
Today is World Asthma Day. In Singapore, about one in 20 people aged 18 to 29 suffers from the chronic inflammation of the airways.They are often told not to do strenuous exercises. JUDITH TAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to an asthma patient who bucks this belief
It is hard to believe that national water polo player Eugene Teo, 29, has asthma.
Especially if you watched him compete at the South-east Asian Games last year, earning Singapore's 26th gold medal in a row.
But doctors say swimming is the least likely sport to cause asthma attacks.
Former competitive swimmers like American Olympian Amy Van Dyken and Singaporean Leslie Kwok also won medals despite the chronic ailment.
Mr Teo has had asthma since he was young.
He said: "It was a disastrous time for my parents. I was in and out of the hospital so many times it took a toll on my parents' time, energy and finances."
His father is a taxi driver and his mother a housewife.
As he got older, he made his own way to the clinic to be nebulised - a medical procedure where he would inhale the asthma medication as a mist.
When he found out swimming could help in breath control, Mr Teo signed up for water polo when he was in Secondary 1 at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road).
He thought it looked like fun.
But it was far from smooth sailing. He said: "Since I couldn't swim then, I had to spend my first year learning how, plus I had to keep up with my teammates."
His perseverance paid off when he was picked to play for the national team at 19.
Training was and remains intensive - he still trains with the team in the pool every day, except Sunday, from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
To ensure he manages his asthma properly, Mr Teo keeps his inhaler close all the time.
"My wife also makes sure she has one in her bag," he added.
Before he starts work on the track or in the gym, Mr Teo takes two puffs "as a precaution".
"Running actually induces my asthma attacks. I also get an attack if I laugh too hard," he said.
"I have to take care of my condition."
What is asthma
Asthma is a chronic condition that inflames the airways, making breathing difficult.
It causes recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing.
In Singapore, about one in five young children suffers from asthma.
The National Health Survey 2010 found 3.9 per cent of people, aged 18 to 69, suffered from asthma and the prevalence among young adults, aged 18 to 29, was higher at 5.2 per cent.
"Over the last one or two decades, people's awareness of asthma has generally improved. People also seek medical help before they suffer a major attack. That could be one of the factors contributing to why prevalence is higher among young adults," said Dr Augustine Tee, chief of the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Changi General Hospital.
"Another factor could be that young adults lead active lifestyles and are exposed to many possible asthma triggers, such as strenuous exercise, outdoor haze exposure and other allergens like dust mites," Dr Tee added.
Several local studies have found that the main factor for fatal and near fatal asthma in Singapore was suboptimal treatment, and more than half of those admitted into intensive care units had untreated asthma.
Most young asthma patients who sought treatment for acute attacks, either at private clinics or emergency rooms, were not receiving regular reviews and none were on appropriate preventive medication.
Common myths of asthma
To mark World Asthma Day, the Asthma & Allergy Association (AAA), debunks common beliefs about the chronic lung disease:
Asthma medicine is only needed to stop an attack.
Most patients are on maintenance inhalers, which are to be taken every day, even if they feel well. These are not to be confused with rescue inhalers - they open the windpipe when one is breathless.
Asthma attacks cannot be prevented.
Attacks can be prevented with regular use of maintenance inhalers and going for yearly flu vaccinations.
Asthma attacks are not life-threatening.
Severe asthma attacks can cause low oxygen levels and may even cause your heart to stop. If your attack does not go away after using the rescue inhaler, seek medical attention immediately.
Asthma inhalers are addictive.
Inhalers do not contain any drugs that will physically cause addiction.