The ‘smoker’s disease’ is affecting more and more people who have never lit up in their lives – and it is a particular problem among women. What do experts think is going on?

‘Don’t go home. Order a taxi, go to A&E and have a chest x-ray. I don’t think this is asthma-related. Something’s not right here.” Her GP’s words struck fear into Jenny Abbott.

It hadn’t started out that way. A few weeks earlier, before Christmas 2017, she got a bad cold and a cough. An out-of-hours GP thought her longstanding viral-induced asthma was playing up and prescribed her steroids. A week later, her own family doctor took the same view. It was a reassuringly familiar diagnosis. But it was wrong. Abbott was surprised when her usual run round the park near her north London home left her breathless. “I just thought I was tired. But the next day I noticed that I was becoming breathless going up the stairs. And the day after that, I had to read something out at work, and even doing that made me breathless,” she recalls. Those symptoms triggered her GP’s plea to go to A&E.

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