Breath of fresh air for asthmatic teens

An e-learning programme aims to dispel concerns about asthma revealed in a survey, reports Áilín Quinlan.

Breath of fresh air for asthmatic teens

ARELUCTANCE to appear different from your peers is a hallmark of adolescence, but a need to be one of the herd can pose a health risk to some teenagers.

According to research carried out over three years by UCC lecturer Mary Hughes, students are less likely to manage their asthma properly when they’re away from home because their friends don’t understand the condition.

“This results in teenagers hiding their symptoms or taking risks when they feel unwell in order to avoid unwanted attention,” warns Hughes, who surveyed some 50 teenage asthmatics for her study.

A lecturer in the university’s School of Nursing, Hughes, who is also research and education officer with the Asthma Society of Ireland, has now used her research findings to design a new e-learning programme about asthma for second-level students.

“They didn’t want to seem different from their peers. They feared their friends would not understand asthma and believed that if they were seen as different they would not be accepted,” she says.

The programme has been piloted in a Co Cork school and, it is hoped, will be rolled out nationally later this year. “Evidence shows that teenagers... will delay dealing with symptoms in front of their peers to avoid drawing attention,” warns Hughes.

“They didn’t understand the condition or how their medication worked, and very often they pushed themselves to do what they peers were doing, which put them at greater risk of an asthma attack,” she says.

The teenagers also didn’t feel they had a trusted online source for information tailored to their age-group.

Hughes’ e-learning programme aims to tackle these issues. Her programme was run successfully at Kinsale Community School with 120 students and resulted in a 33% increase in awareness, understanding and acceptance of asthma.

Commissioned by the Asthma Society of Ireland and supported by Dyson, the e-learning programme takes a teen-focused approach to supporting young people with asthma.

It’s a highly interactive programme with four modules dealing with everything from basic background information on asthma to managing asthma in the home, the environment and in the sporting arena.

“I didn’t use medical language. I focused on their lives and tried to make it completely relevant to them, using language they would understand,” says Hughes, whose format included video clips, power-point and PDFs.

One of the areas highlighted as most beneficial by students was their increased knowledge of the Five-Step Rule for managing an asthma attack.

Kinsale Community School transition year student Ciara Gimblett, 15, who has had asthma all her life was one of those who participated in the programme.

While for her asthma is not a social issue — all her friends know she has it — she believes some teenagers would be self-conscious about taking medication in front of their friends.

“I think some teenagers would be reluctant to take the inhaler in front of their friends, for example if they were playing sports. This wasn’t an issue for me but I know it’s out there,” says Gimblett, who dances, rows and plays basketball.

She and her friends found the programme very informative.

“My friends didn’t understand asthma or what the main problems were or what triggers it but they’re more aware now,” she says.

“Before they did the programme, they knew I’d asthma but they didn’t really understand what was involved, but now they do. I think it’s a good programme. It helped me learn how to cope with it better.

“It helped me know what to do and for me it was an opener. It helped me figure out what I needed to do if I start having an asthma attack or feel wheezy.

“My asthma has become worse over the past year and my GP has explained about the medication, but the programme focused on really explaining to me what I would be dealing with.”

| The Asthma Society of Ireland plans to roll out the e-learning programme nationwide in 2014.

THE FIVE-STEP RULE

1. Take two puffs of reliever inhaler (usually blue) immediately

2. Sit upright and stay calm

3. Take slow steady breaths

4. If there is no immediate improvement take one puff of reliever inhaler every minute (You can take up to 10 puffs in 10 minutes. Children under six years can take up to six puffs in 10 minutes.)

5. Call 999 or 112 if symptoms do not improve after following steps 1-4 or if you are in worried.

If an ambulance does not arrive within 10 minutes repeat Step 4.

FACING THE FACTS

¦ Asthma is the most common chronic disease for children in Ireland, affecting 20% of Irish children

¦ More than 3,000 hospital admissions per year for asthma treatment, with over half under 14 years in age

¦ Inadequate management of symptoms is a major problem for children and young people, placing an unnecessary burden on the health service

¦ Estimated cost to the Irish health system for the treatment of asthma in children younger than 15 is €56 million annually

¦ The average cost for a hospital admission for asthma is €3,508 per visit

¦ Irish children lose on average 10 days of school per annum due to their asthma

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