Number of asthmatic children doubles

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A CHILD is admitted to hospital every 10 minutes in Britain because of asthma, a campaigning charity said yesterday.

The National Asthma Campaign said the number of cases had doubled over the last 15 years and one in seven schoolchildren now suffered from the illness.

The charity launched its asthma week yesterday with a report that pleaded for more understanding and care for those afflicted. Some 60 per cent of childhood sufferers report that their schooling is affected, with about 8 1/2 million days lost each year.

Among the seven steps it proposes to fight the disease's growth are the provision of inhalers in every public first-aid box, and more campaigning and advertising to ensure that all mothers understand that smoking can contribute to the development of asthma in their children.

Melinda Letts, the charity's executive, said although there were many theories about the rapid spread of asthma 'the truth is that no one knows why there has been such a huge explosion'.

The timing of exposure to early childhood infections, the dung of house dust mites building up in the air inside modern, well-insulated homes, and decreasing quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables in diets are all thought to be involved in the onset of illness.

Air pollution, both from traffic fumes outside the home and possibly gas stoves within, can also worsen symptoms.

'Most parents live in hope that their child's asthma will be a passing phase,' the report says. 'Encouraging results suggest that two-thirds of children with asthma can be expected to grow out of it.' A survey by the charity found some pupils complaining that teachers lacked understanding of their condition and made no allowances.

It wants spending on childhood asthma to be doubled, and says every GP should have access to a specialist. The parents of each patient should be given written details of their child's treatment regime, including what to do during an asthma attack.

Labour yesterday launched an 'Airwatch' campaign to allow local party activists to monitor air quality in hospitals, playgrounds and other public places. With the help of sponsorship from the union Manufacturing Science Finance, it is making 100 pollution measuring devices available at pounds 5, half price.

These diffusion tubes measure the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide over a two-week period. The gas - which is produced whenever petrol, gas and coal are burnt - is one of the most common indoor and outdoor pollutants. Labour is calling for a major cutback in road building, with money saved being diverted into investment in public transport and cycling facilities.

The National Asthma Campaign called for statutory air quality standards to be drawn up by the Government and rapidly enforced across the country.