Every parent of a first-year student can relate to the nagging concern that their child isn’t taking care of their own health. It explains the food parcels, the multi-vitamins posted special delivery and the strict instructions not to drink too much, sleep plenty and phone home when stressed. For most parents, there’s little need for concern. Their adult child gets along just fine and at the end of the first term returns home for Christmas looking exactly like they did in September.
For parents of children with asthma it can be a very different story. According to Asthma UK, young people with the condition are more likely to have uncontrolled asthma and least likely to get life-saving basic care. Those aged 18-34 years were the least likely to have a personalised asthma action plan, with only 26% saying they used one. They were also the age group least likely to attend their annual asthma review, with only 64% doing so.
A new environment, exposure to allergic asthma triggers such as house dust mites and mould spores and the change in season, means that students with allergic asthma are at high risk of hospital admission if their asthma isn’t managed properly.
Of the 5.4 million people living with asthma in the UK, 50% of adults and 90% of children have allergic triggers. This makes allergic asthma the commonest form of the condition, responsible for roughly 1 in 3 asthma attacks. Yet despite the fact that allergy testing could help asthmatics manage their triggers and potentially save lives, new research has shown that over three million with the condition have never been tested.
Specific ‘IgE’ testing to identify allergens are recommend by NICE guidelines as soon as a formal asthma diagnosis has been made. Over 50% of people who took part in the research said they did not know what triggered their asthma, however 97% believed that understanding their asthma triggers would help them to manage their condition. 90% of those who had been tested believed this was the case.
For students with asthma, taking steps to manage their exposure to allergic triggers can be as simple as washing sheets at a higher temperature to kill dust mites and vacuuming regularly. Choosing accommodation with limited carpeting, keeping living areas well ventilated and wiping surfaces to prevent a build-up of mould is also key. Mould spores flourish in warm, damp environments and house dust mites are commonly found in common living areas like sitting rooms and bedrooms.
A better knowledge of asthma triggers could save lives. Dr Shuaib Nasser, Consultant in the Department of Allergy, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, states, “We know that triggers can be identified for many people with asthma – the attacks don’t come out of the blue.” Known triggers include grass pollen, pet dander, food allergy, dust mites, fungal spores. Dr Nasser emphasises that “allergen testing is widely available and should be offered to everyone where allergy is likely to trigger asthma attacks.
Asthma is a serious condition. Every ten seconds, someone in the UK has an asthma attack and around three people every day die as a result. Studies earlier this year have shown that over 1 million asthma sufferers could be using their inhalers incorrectly due to poor information and a horrifying 1 in 11 people don’t believe asthma can kill. Allergy testing, attending an annual review and making use of a personalised asthma action plan is vital, particularly as new students move away from home for the first time and are particularly vulnerable.
A group of 5,003 people (4,000 adults and 1,000 children) nationwidewere surveyed between 10th – 31st October 2018. This real-world evidence study was based on a questionnaire produced by a Delphi-style group made up of the BSACI, Allergy UK and individual GPs.
Asthma: Diagnosis, monitoring and chronic asthma management. November 2017.
Asthma & Allergy, Making the Connection; A Real-World Study by Dr Shuaib Nasser, 2019.
The Reality of Asthma Care in the UK, p 21. By Lottie Renwick, Asthma UK, 2018.
Majority Are Clueless About Asthma Attacks. Asthma UK. April 2016.
The Reality of Asthma Care in the UK. Asthma UK. 2018.
Your Quick Guide to… House Dust Mite. Allergy UK. August 2018.
Your Quick Guide to… Mould Allergy Advice. Allergy UK. June 2018.
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