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Total ignorance over asthma widespread among teachers

One in three teachers cannot identify the symptoms of an asthma attack, despite the fact that there are an average of two asthmatic children in every classroom, new research reveals.

And barely half of all teachers feel that they are able to cope with a student’s asthma attack without support from a doctor or nurse.

One in 11 children in the UK has asthma, working out at an average of two asthmatic children in every classroom. This figure is even higher elsewhere: in Australia, one in six children has asthma. Three people die every day from the illness.

Academics from Monash University, in Australia, and Hashemite University, in Jordan, therefore decided to question 122 teachers at 16 schools in the Australian state of Victoria, to find out how equipped they were to deal with asthma attacks in the classroom.

They found that more than one in three teachers could not correctly identify the three main symptoms of asthma: coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. And almost two-thirds of teachers were unaware that it is best to go to the emergency room when a child has even a mild asthma attack.

There was, in fact, widespread ignorance about the illness among respondents. A third mistakenly believed that drinking cows’ milk causes asthmatic children to produce high levels of mucus. And 55 per cent did not realise that asthma is usually more of a problem at night than during the day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, few of the teachers surveyed were confident about managing an asthma attack in the classroom. Only a third felt equipped to decide whether or not an asthmatic student needed to be taken to hospital. Roughly the same number had no confidence in their ability to prevent an asthma attack from getting worse, or to give students the right medication during an attack.

And 45 per cent said that they would prefer to take a child to hospital, rather than deal with an asthma attack themselves.

The researchers pointed out that teachers – particularly primary teachers – are often required to watch asthmatic children for signs of breathing difficulties, and to decide which activities they can safely participate in.

“Teachers’ knowledge and understanding of asthma can have significant impact on the health status of their students with asthma,” they said.

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