2 out of 3 asthma deaths are preventable - leading local health charity’s stark warning
Today sees the launch of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s (NICHS) new asthma awareness campaign which comes as a result of the charity’s concern the public do not realise just how serious asthma can be.
With approximately 1 in 10 people in Northern Ireland being asthmatic, including 36,000 children, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the condition, how dangerous it can be and the importance of the correct use of inhalers.
Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS explains:
“The fact 2 out of 3 asthma deaths are preventable is unacceptable. Through our new asthma awareness campaign, we want to help prevent future asthma deaths, make people think twice about asthma, as well as take their inhalers properly. This means taking their preventer inhaler daily and ensuring they carry their reliever inhaler with them at all times.
“Alarmingly, only 30% of asthma patients know how to use their inhaler properly¹. Furthermore, only 15% of health care professionals are educated on correct inhaler use which means they are not passing on the right techniques to patients². This situation needs to change as the blunt fact is asthma can be fatal and it is vital everyone with asthma is empowered and educated with the knowledge and skills on how to use inhalers correctly to help prevent unnecessary attacks and deaths.”
There are several other issues the charity’s campaign is hoping to tackle. Fidelma continues:
“We know some people are not taking their brown preventer inhaler everyday which is crucial as this builds up protection in the airways over time to help prevent asthma attacks.
“We also know people are not carrying their blue reliever inhaler with them which means if they have an attack they are without the lifeline they need. Others think they do not have asthma anymore and mistakenly stop their treatment without consulting their healthcare professional. These are all behaviours which we want to try and change through our asthma awareness campaign.”
A 2019 analysis of 19 high-income countries found that death rates for asthma in 10 to 24-year-olds, among all 14 European nations included, was highest in the UK³.
“This is a shocking statistic and is why we are targeting children, teens, young adults and parents as part of this campaign-there is no room for complacency with this potentially deadly condition.
“Our campaign has been developed in conjunction with our Asthma Partnership Group which includes leading asthma healthcare professionals in response to community needs and the shocking asthma statistics, and includes extensive outdoor, digital and radio advertising as well as a range of educational materials to spread awareness of asthma and how serious it can be.
“To engage children, we have developed superhero characters, Peter the Preventer and Raya the Reliever. The aim is to show children their inhalers are actually their superpower and give them the ability to play, join in and have fun like everyone else. We want to empower children with asthma and give them the tools to do the things they enjoy whilst understanding their condition and the importance of using their inhalers properly.
“It is essential children master the technique of taking their inhalers correctly from a young age and that they are taught about the importance of prevention i.e. taking their preventer inhaler every day and making sure their reliever inhaler goes everywhere with them. Children, young people and adults should know how to spot the signs of an asthma attack coming on and what to do if this happens. Early education will hopefully lead to better asthma management as the child moves through their teenage years and into adulthood and reduce the number of potential asthma deaths.
“Parents and carers are also hugely responsible for helping their child manage their asthma correctly as set out in their Asthma Personal Action Plan. We cannot stress enough how important it is for parents to play an active role in ensuring their child is taking their inhalers regularly and properly. They should check their child’s inhaler use technique and if they have any doubts about whether this is correct they should make an appointment with their GP, asthma nurse or a pharmacist.
“Their child could be just a few breaths away from a tragic situation and we want to do what we can to try and prevent this. As part of the campaign we will be hosting a Q&A webinar for parents, carers and professionals working with young people such as teachers with Dr Dara O’Donoghue and Professor Mike Shields, which will show them the correct techniques for taking inhalers and give them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have.”
The NICHS website also has lots of resources and information about asthma and you can find out more at:
Professor Mike Shields is a recently retired consultant respiratory paediatrician with 30 years of experience treating children with asthma. He also sits on NICHS’s Governance Board and Asthma Partnership Group alongside others, including clinicians. Professor Shields says:
“NICHS’s Asthma Partnership Group identified the need for an asthma education programme that aims to reduce the burden of asthma in children and young people in Northern Ireland by way of delivering and implementing a comprehensive education programme including an asthma awareness campaign in order to improve the delivery of the basics of asthma care.”
Professor Shields explains there are some common mistakes related to asthma management:
"Unfortunately many people with asthma think using just their reliever inhaler is sufficient. They might put their preventer inhaler into the medicine cupboard for use if they have a bad attack, but it doesn't work for bad attacks - it needs to be used every day.
“Children and young people diagnosed with asthma should be shown how to use their inhalers correctly, checked that they can do this and should have an Asthma Personal Action Plan prescribed and reviewed by their consulting clinician. This action plan allows each child, or parent/carer, to record his or her asthma treatment to help manage their asthma when they are well, when their symptoms get worse and when they are suffering an asthma attack.
“In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, 38 people in Northern Ireland died from asthma and the sad reality is that many of these deaths could have been prevented through better basic care and correct inhaler use. NI Chest Heart & Stroke’s asthma awareness campaign will hopefully make people think twice about this condition and its potentially deadly impact.”
For further information and support about asthma visit:
Sanchis et al, 2016, ‘Systematic Review of Errors in Inhaler Use: Has Patient Technique Improved Over Time?’, Chest, 150(2):394-406.
V.Plaza et al, 2018, ‘Errors in the Use of Inhalers by Health Care Professionals: A Systematic Review’, JACI IN Practice, Volume 6, Issue 3, p987-995.
Nuffield Trust Think Tank and the Association for Young People's Health study.