"It’s reassuring to know that we’re doing everything we can to stay on top of their asthma."

Shakeela Riaz and two of her five children, Salis, 12, and Samiraiz, 7, have asthma. Here she tells us how they cope as a family.

Getting diagnosed

“I went to the doctor’s with a chest infection when I was pregnant with my second son Salis and they diagnosed asthma. It’s up and down – I have good months and bad months. A few years ago, I had a scary experience where I had an asthma attack and every breath felt painful. I ended up staying in hospital for more than two weeks as I also had a chest infection. 

“Salis was given a blue Ventolin inhaler when he was three and a brown preventer inhaler when he was five. We know his asthma triggers are cold and damp weather, and sometimes pollen, so I can watch out for his symptoms when the weather changes. Sami first got asthma symptoms when he was two and a half. 

Mum Shakeela with her sons who have asthma

A challenging time

“When he was eight, Salis had a bad asthma attack. I’d picked him up after school and knew something was wrong because when he was in the car he couldn’t respond to questions and kept closing his eyes. He was whispering – 'I can’t speak, I’m tired.' His breathing was heavy. It was terrifying. 

“At the hospital they put Salis on a nebuliser and gave him lots of medicines. He was off school for a week and it took him weeks to recover fully.

Staying on top of symptoms

“After Salis’ asthma attack I visited Asthma + Lung UK’s website and found the information really helpful. I think because I know how scary an asthma attack is, I felt really determined to do everything I could to help the boys avoid one. Both boys have had episodes where their asthma’s been quite bad, but now it’s generally well controlled. I love the fact asthma doesn’t hold them back from doing anything.

“Salis and Sami have asthma action plans – they’re really useful. I’ve given one to the school so they know what to do if the boys get symptoms or need their inhaler.

“I take them for an asthma review every six months. I usually get a double appointment so I can get them checked together to save time. The asthma nurse updates the asthma plans and checks their inhaler technique. It’s reassuring to know that we’re doing everything we can to stay on top of their asthma.

Getting into a good medicine routine has helped us

“Both boys take two puffs of their preventer inhaler twice a day - I watch them every morning and evening. They still use spacers because they can’t grasp the proper breathing technique yet. 

“We keep their inhalers and spacers next to their toothbrushes in the bathroom so they always remember to take it. After using it, they rinse out their mouths and brush their teeth, which helps them to avoid the side effects of the preventer.

Easing my children’s concerns about their inhalers

“Salis said to me recently, ‘My brown preventer inhaler isn’t doing anything, it’s not helping. It’s the blue one that makes me feel better.’ I had to explain that the brown one’s working in the background, that it helps to prevent asthma symptoms.

“Most of the time Sami is okay taking his preventer inhaler. If he has the odd temper tantrum about taking it, it tends to be short-lived because he knows he can’t win. I’m really firm. He knows he has to take it whether he wants to or not. ‪I do get frustrated, especially when we are in a hurry, but I have to stay calm, and tend to bribe him by saying, ‘You will not get a treat if you don't take your inhaler’, and it usually works.

“Sami did ask me why he had to take his inhaler. He said, ‘None of my friends use an inhaler, why do I have to be different?’ He’s embarrassed to take it at school because he gets teased and feels like he doesn’t fit in. Telling him that David Beckham has asthma is helpful because he loves his football. 

How we try to avoid needing steroid tablets

“Of course I don’t like giving the boys steroids, but asthma is life-threatening and if they need them, they need them. The inhaled steroids they take every day go straight to their lungs and if they take them properly can help them avoid needing higher doses of steroid tablets. I’m managing their asthma as best as I can because I know that if we keep on top of it they won’t be admitted to hospital every five minutes.

Coping with night-time symptoms

“A couple of times a year, when it’s really cold, Salis’ asthma gets worse at night and he can’t stop coughing. I get up with him to give him his blue reliever inhaler. We use lots of pillows to prop him up, which definitely helps because as soon as he lays down flat he starts coughing again. If the boys are up, I give them peppermint tea to help them sleep.

“As a parent, I get used to the tiredness, even if I have work the next day. Camomile tea calms me down if I haven’t had enough sleep and I’m feeling agitated.

“When he’s wheezing, it sounds as if there’s a whistling noise coming from his lungs every time he breathes. You can only hear it when you’re really close – the best way for me to check is to put my ear next to his chest.

“We’ve learnt that if Salis is coughing at night because of his asthma, the bedroom temperature needs to be constant – if it’s too hot, he can’t breathe. If it’s too cold he gets really wheezy.

Asthma doesn’t stop them being active

My boys love doing a lot of sport, which I’m pleased about because I know it’s good for their asthma. I say to them, ‘If you don’t take your asthma medicines, you won’t be able to play football or go swimming. They don’t want to miss out so it’s an incentive for them to remember to take them.”

“I used to worry that if Salis or Sami exercised it would trigger their asthma symptoms, but I’m more relaxed now. I always make sure they’ve got their blue reliever inhaler with them. And the asthma nurse has suggested that if they’re a bit chesty, they can take two puffs first and that does help.”

Pulling together as a family

“The boys’ brothers and sister are sometimes scared by asthma - my eldest was in tears when I had to take Salis to hospital the first time. It was a worrying time for them when he was in and out of hospital. When I brought him home, they were very quiet and they were being really nice to him. I think it does affect them emotionally. I’ve spent a lot of time reassuring them.

“It has been really important to explain to the rest of the children what asthma is, so they have a better understanding of the condition, and are able to help Salis and Sami. They come and tell me when they’re out of breath or coughing, especially when they’re all outside playing. Then I can go and check whether either of them needs their blue inhaler. Usually they don’t, as being out of breath is all part of being a child, but it’s reassuring to know the children are aware of what to look out for. I feel it is my job to educate everyone around the boys so our friends, family and their teachers can all support them.

"My husband is very supportive. He tends to devote his weekends around the children, which gives me time to myself so I can de-stress.

“I think we cope well because we’re a close family. Having asthma in the family can sometimes feel like a big challenge, but it’s amazing how the boys have adapted and how dealing with it has become part of the routine of family life.”

Last updated September 2016