Natalie Homer’s son Isaac, now 12, was diagnosed with asthma at the age of five after experiencing a persistent cough at night. When he was eight-years-old he had such a severe asthma attack, he was admitted to hospital for five days.
Every day across the UK, three people die because of an asthma attack, yet two-thirds of these deaths are preventable. Here Natalie tells GoodtoKnow how being better informed about using her son’s inhaler could have stopped his attack from escalating:
‘When Isaac began school he started to get a persistent coughing at night,’ she said. ‘I tried a few different things like cough medicine but that didn’t help. Then we tried a steam inhalation which opened his airways, and that relieved it. That’s when I went to the doctors and they said: “Your son may well have asthma.”
After some tests, Isaac was prescribed a blue reliever and a brown preventer inhaler. Natalie explained that while she always kept Isaac’s reliever inhaler to hand, she’d not been so strict about the preventer, which should be used twice a day.
‘Until the big incident, I didn’t think the asthma diagnosis was as serious as it turned out to be. If he had a cough in the night I would give him two puffs of his blue reliever inhaler, and that would open up his airways and help him get back to sleep.
But, one morning, Isaac woke with a cough that couldn’t be eased with his inhaler.
‘He was also being sick and feeling lethargic. I thought he had a stomach bug, but not a typical one, so I phoned up NHS 24 and they arranged to get us an out-of-hours GP appointment at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.
‘By the time we got there he wasn’t able to walk from the car, I had to carry him, and then I realised it was a very serious situation. As soon as the GP saw him he put Isaac on a nebuliser and gave him 10 puffs of the blue reliever inhaler.
‘I realised then that I could’ve done that at home. I didn’t know that was something you could use if an asthma attack was suspected. If I’d known to do that two hours before, we may never got to the extent that it was such a severe asthma attack, that he ended up in hospital for five days.
‘They also gave Isaac prednisolone, which is the steroid they’d give to reduce inflammation, before his breathing settled down.’
Natalie warned parents to follow inhaler guidelines, saying: ‘You need to know that you can treat the early signs of an asthma attack with the reliever inhaler.’
Since the incident, Natalie sought advice from Asthma UK and has been careful about ensuring her son uses his preventer inhaler twice a day, as recommended.
‘If your child has been prescribed a preventer then do make sure you actually give it,’ she urged. ‘Only because we experienced an asthma attack do we diligently follow the preventer medication requirements. Having the reliever is one thing but preventing is a better approach.
By incorporating Isaac’s inhalers into his daily routine, Natalie found this an effective way of ensuring her son never forgets.
‘He takes two puffs of the brown morning and night, so we built it into a routine,’ she said. ‘Now he would never clean his teeth without doing his inhaler.’
Natalie also found filing in Asthma UK’s written action plan was really helpful. The downloadable form sets out how to manage asthma symptoms, as well as detailing what to do in the event of an asthma attack. This is a simple way to inform anyone caring for your child about their particular asthma and how to treat it.
She said: ‘I went to the Asthma UK website and downloaded the action plan, which we update every year. That gave us confidence that we were doing the right thing
‘Also, if you or the child has that diagnosis, don’t be scared about it. Read a few stories and see how you would deal in an emergency.’
For more information about managing asthma visit Asthma UK’s website or call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to speak to an asthma nurse. Parents can also speak to our asthma nurses by calling 0300 222 5800 or by messaging 07378 606 728 on WhatsApp.