Schools failing to help asthmatic children

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Two thirds of schools neglect to help their asthmatic pupils, and hundreds of thousands of sufferers of all ages are not properly informed about how to combat their disease, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Two thirds of schools neglect to help their asthmatic pupils, and hundreds of thousands of sufferers of all ages are not properly informed about how to combat their disease, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Most schools have ignored government guidelines issued six years ago on how to prevent the disease and help children who are having an attack – although there are, on average, four or five asthmatics in every classroom.

Research by the National Asthma Campaign has found that half of all child sufferers did not have access to their inhalers when they most needed them, and that nearly one in 10 said they had no one to help them in any way when they were having an attack.

One six-year-old became hysterical after having a bean bag put over her face to try to control her coughing. Another child was refused his inhaler because the correct member of staff was not in the school office that day.

As a result many parents keep their children away from school when they are feeling ill. An estimated 150,000 asthmatic pupils miss more than a month of school every year.

The National Asthma Campaign, which says the situation in schools is worsening, says: "Asthma attacks build up over time and can be prevented if teachers recognise the symptoms. Unfortunately so many of them can't do that. It can be dangerous if no inhalers are available immediately, or people are fumbling around not knowing what to do until the ambulance arrives."

The campaign wants new legislation to force schools to follow official advice and exclude all possible triggers for the disease, such as furry pets and tobacco smoke.

Meanwhile another survey, of more than 1,000 asthmatics has found that 51 per cent of all sufferers restricted their daily activities needlessly and 32 per cent avoided physical activity, because they are worried about their health. The study, published tomorrow in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, indirectly criticises GPs and nurses for failing to properly help patients live full lives. It adds that experts believe that up 1.2 million asthmatics are not being properly treated.

More than 60 per cent of asthmatics admitted they failed to contact their doctors if their condition worsened. Only 7 per cent used specialist asthma clinics, said the study, funded by Allen & Hanburys, makers of inhalers owned by GlaxoSmithKline.

Their findings were released as asthma experts at the University of Leicester prepared for a major new study into the links between respiratory illness in children and urban pollution from exhaust fumes, as part of an international research programme into air pollution and health.

The US-funded study will test the lungs of 120 children aged seven to 17 in Leicestershire after the discovery last year that ultra-fine particles, mainly from diesel exhausts, were being lodged deep in the lungs of children living near main roads.

The research by Leicester Children's Asthma Centre, based at Leicester University's Institute for Lung Health, found a direct correlation between the presence of the smallest particulates with living close to heavy traffic after taking samples from the lungs of 22 children.

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