A wheeze to understand

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Nationally one in 10 children suffers from asthma which means many who attend school are using an inhaler to control their symptoms. So, schools and staff need to be informed about the condition. The traditional portrait of an asthmatic child is one who is excused from PE and games lessons, who avoids sport at the weekends and whose parents are over-protective.

The picture is of children unable to keep up with their peers and socially isolated, lacking in self confidence. When asthma is poorly controlled this picture is more likely to be accurate; children underachieve and have excessive time off. Lack of understanding by teachers and other adults can add to the problems.

Nevertheless, we have come a long way in our understanding and management of asthma.

My own experience takes me back 10 years when my own child started school and I had to attend school every dinner time to administer his inhaler. I would receive phone calls asking me to collect him from school because he was having an "attack".

I think the worse comment I heard then was from a senior member of staff who said that asthma was all stress-related in children anyway and if they sat quietly it would go away.

But we haven't got it quite right yet. I now work in a clinic and still hear horror stories about where children's inhalers are kept and how they can't get hold of them when they need to. On the other hand, there is no mistaking the joy we feel when a child comes to the clinic and tells us that they have made the school football team or managed a full cross country run because they are using their inhalers properly.

The National Asthma Campaign and many others have painstakingly campaigned for schools to become more aware of the condition and its management. Schools each need a policy which gives children immediate access to their inhalers, records the appropriate treatment, explains trigger factors (such as classroom pets or going from a very warm classroom to a cold playground) and what to do in an emergency.

Much depends on local education authorities to support and train school staff, alongside joint initiatives with asthma nurses, school nurses, GPs and parents. With the Government set to issue national guidelines for teachers about managing asthma in school, better communication is vital between health and educational professionals. A team approach is needed and we owe it to our children to ensure the guidance is a success.

Maxine Holt lives in Oldham, Lancashire.

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