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’s often 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. 18-34 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 asthma sufferers 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.
What triggers asthma?
Dr Glenis Scadding, Honourable Allergies and Rhinologist at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London, talks to the Allergy Today Podcast about allergies and asthma
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 asthma sufferers, 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.
One student’s real struggles
Julia had severe brittle asthma which was not well controlled when she was at university. Julia is now in her late 40s so things have changed. Her health and asthma are much improved now. Back then, she was having regular weekly checkups at Addenbrooks Hospital in Cambridge. She carried two nebulisers in her car at all times instead of inhalers because her asthma was so bad and unreliable. I remember her talking about doctors not really know how to help, the treatments were limited.
Her attitude was always to prove she can do anything, and she has certainly done that. She still sees an asthma nurse regularly and is testament to the importance of keeping regular contact with professionals.
I am proud call Julia my friend, we met at university and I hate to admit that I wasn’t really aware of her health struggles at the time.
Julia’s asthma didn’t stop her coming out with us and enjoying all the university fun. I knew she had asthma and that it was worse than mine, which I controlled with a preventative inhaler and the regular blue one for when attacks happened. I did have asthma attacks at university, usually because I was drinking, in a dusty hall of residence and didn’t have my inhaler with me. It’s what kids do. It’s what humans do. We forget to take medication with us all the time and some outfits don’t allow for big enough pockets!
Julia controlled her asthma with medication but also by rowing in the university team. She thinks that being near the water and staying active helped her to stay just that little bit in control of her asthma. Doing something doctors said she probably couldn’t do. It did mean that her studying was affected because she had so much time visiting the hospital. She still managed to do better than me and I’m proud of her tenacity and hard work.
Julia is one of my oldest friends, always full of life, full of laughs and great fun. This blog has reminded us we need to catch up soon. I’m coming for you Julia xxx.
10 things students forget to take to uni
Special thanks to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation for the video below. All students need to understand how and where to get help if they need it and an Asthma Action Plan can help with this.
The worrying asthma stats
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.
Sources and further reading
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. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng80
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. https://www.asthma.org.uk/578f5bcf/globalassets/get-involved/external-affairs-campaigns/publications/annual-asthma-care-survey/annual-asthma-survey-2018/asthmauk-annual-asthma-survey-2018-v7.pdf
Majority Are Clueless About Asthma Attacks. Asthma UK. April 2016. https://www.asthma.org.uk/about/media/news/press-release-majority-are-clueless-about-asthma-attacks/
The Reality of Asthma Care in the UK. Asthma UK. 2018. https://www.asthma.org.uk/578f5bcf/globalassets/get-involved/external-affairs-campaigns/publications/annual-asthma-care-survey/annual-asthma-survey-2018/asthmauk-annual-asthma-survey-2018-v7.pdf
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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So what’s your experience?
Certainly for me, I remember having a year in my final year when my eczema was very bad. This was when dairy really started to affect my skin and I was very stressed. I did have asthma attacks on nights out and one terrible anaphylactic reaction after an Indian meal, but I studied from home so was on top of all the asthma checkups.
Are you a student at university now who has asthma? Does it cause you stress and anxiety? Do you think it could be better managed? and parents, do you worry about your child, going off into the big wide world with a serious health condition. Are you confident that they are taking the precautions and care needed to keep them safe?