Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Anstis revealed that at the age of 18 he was diagnosed with asthma on his return from university. Completely unaware of his condition it wasn’t until his mother brought two new cats that he first started to notice symptoms. After a trip to the GP he was given a preventer inhaler - the main way to treat asthma - and tends to never go anywhere without it since that point. Although admitting that in his case, asthma was only “mild,” there have been times in his life which have unexpectedly triggered an asthma attack. In addition, the star said that whenever he feels nervous or worried, he can sometimes become more wheezy. This culminated in 2020, when the star was “hammered” by pneumonia, despite being incredibly fit and healthy.
Talking about how being diagnosed with asthma has changed his life, Anstis said: “It has had an impact because you have to carry a flixotide preventer inhaler which I didn’t have to think about before I had asthma.
“You have to put it in your pocket when you go out to train at the gym or whatever you are doing. You need to have precautions with you at all times.
“I have gone through life where you face new triggers and suddenly it sets it off and you find it hard to breathe. There was a time when I was starting in the BBC and there was a show I was doing where I was going to be on rollerblades. I went out to have a little practice in the carpark and being completely rubbish with no balance I fell over quite quickly.
“But I hit my elbow really hard on the tarmac which was a bit of a shock to the arm and within five or 10 minutes I started to get an asthma attack. It was actually quite awful.
“I had never had anything like that before but I had this real pain in my arm, then it sort of numbed and then shock set in and my lungs went completely crazy.
“I didn’t have my inhaler with me, so I ran to the lift, which made it worse, and crawled into the children’s BBC office saying ‘Quick! Get my inhaler!’ which slowly alleviated the problem. But it was really scary.”
The NHS explains that asthma is a common lunch condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. Affecting people of all ages, it often starts in childhood, and there is no cure.
Asthma attacks are extremely serious, and kill three people in the UK each day. Symptoms can occur suddenly, or can slowly develop over a few hours or days. Signs that someone might be having or going to have an asthma attack include the following:
- Symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheezing or tight chest)
- The reliever inhaler (usually blue) is not helping
- You're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
- Your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you cannot catch your breath
- Your peak flow score is lower than normal
- Children may also complain of a tummy or chest ache.
In the case of an asthma attack, you should follow the following five steps:
- Sit up straight – try to keep calm.
- Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30 to 60 seconds up to 10 puffs.
- If you feel worse at any point, or you do not feel better after 10 puffs, call 999 for an ambulance.
- If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and your symptoms are not improving, repeat step two.
- If your symptoms are no better after repeating step two, and the ambulance has still not arrived, contact 999 again immediately.
After his asthma attack, Anstis found out other triggers for his asthma included very cold air and nerves, so has tried to adapt his lifestyle in order to avoid these triggers.
Due to his condition, Anstis is automatically at risk of developing other lung conditions, such as pneumonia - the leading cause of hospitalisation in the US. And in 2020, sadly Anstis’ fears were realised.
“In 2020 I had a couple of incidents of being very, very poorly,” the star continued to say. “First one I had COVID-19 and then in February I just got wiped out very quickly and had an awful cough and my lungs were rattling. I went to the GP who said I had a rattle on the right hand side of my lungs and said it might be mild pneumonia.
“On my way to the pharmacy I almost collapsed a couple of times and I thought ‘God if I don’t get home I might just fall over, faint and pass out’. Three days later I had a chest X-ray and my lungs were blocked.”
The American Lung Association explains that pneumonia is a type of infection that can either be viral or bacterial. Often spread through coughing, sneezing or touching, the infection causes the lung’s air sacs to become inflamed filling with either fluid or mucus. In some cases, as breathing becomes more difficult, the condition can be fatal.
“I was coughing up blood and all sorts of things,” Anstis added, reflecting on his health ordeal. “I got quite worried and tried to call an ambulance but just gave up. I didn’t have the energy. I was completely wiped out and couldn’t get out of bed.
“It was awful. I remember lying in bed and taking a picture on Instagram, which people still remind me of because they thought I was dying and I felt like I was. There is no colour in my face and there is nothing in my eyes, but I keep that picture to remind me how bad it was.”
Although Anstis was able to fully recover from the condition, it took nearly four weeks, in which time he developed a debilitating cough and battled brain fog, having to take time off from work and exercising.
Reflecting on his experience with pneumonia and his continued experience with asthma, Anstis is supporting the charity Lung + Asthma UK, which has analysed over a seven-year period that half a million people have died from lung conditions such as asthma attacks, COPD exacerbations and pneumonia, in the UK. These statistics make the UK the worst country in western Europe for deaths due to lung conditions.
Of all the countries in Europe, only Turkey had a higher death rate than the UK and people in the UK are three times more likely to die from lung disease than in Finland, which has the lowest lung disease death rates in Europe. One contributing factor to these high statistics is air pollution, which worsens lung conditions.
On hearing these shocking statistics, Anstis added: “I am shocked by it because that is an awful number of people going through the pain of having lung problems. But you know, if you've got a friend or a relative that you see struggling to breathe, one evening or when they're out, they could collapse. So you know I want my nieces and nephews to be able to potentially grow up in London and be able to breathe in cleaner air so we have to sort of take action now because if we don't take very swift, fairly deep rooted action, it will never get better.
“I am not a particularly old person and I keep fit. I know other young people who have been affected by pneumonia and so many more kids have asthma than when I was at school. The pollution levels in London and other parts of the country are completely off the scale. I think it’s just shocking that more isn’t being done about this. It’s literally ruining our lungs.”
Toby Anstis presents Club Classics 7pm-11pm every Friday night on Heart FM and Heart Dance Breakfast 7am-10am every weekday.