A family history
“I’ve been dealing with asthma my whole life. I was diagnosed at four and had a few bad asthma attacks. Once I nearly died. Since the age of nine, though, I haven’t had an asthma attack - I do everything I can to stay on top of it. Later, my granddad was diagnosed with late-onset asthma in his 60s. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when both my sons were diagnosed with asthma too."
Getting the boys diagnosed
“Gabriel developed a night-time cough when he was 18 months old. Although he wasn’t given an official diagnosis of asthma at that point, he was given a blue Ventolin inhaler. He had a bad asthma attack when he was 20 months – I know how horrible it feels, so I think that made it worse for me. My husband Simon and I took him to A&E. He was kept in overnight and given a course of steroid tablets.
“When Gabriel was three, I pushed the doctor to prescribe him a brown preventer inhaler. That definitely calmed his airways down – it took a while to kick in, but he hasn’t been admitted to hospital since he was three and a half.
“Beau was given a blue reliever just after his first birthday. When he was two and a half, we needed to use it more than three times a week. The doctor told me this is a sign that his symptoms weren’t under control, so they gave him the brown inhaler and that brought the symptoms under control."
Getting into a good routine with medicines
“When the boys were really little and didn’t like putting the mask over their nose and mouth, we’d make it fun to stop them fussing. In between each puff of the inhaler, we’d count ‘one motorbike, two motorbike’, and we’d do the noises and actions in between – brum brum.
“Now both boys take their preventer inhalers twice a day as regularly as clockwork. Gabriel keeps his inhaler and spacer in a special box under his bed, which he decorated with some drawings. I think it makes him feel grown up that he gets the box out himself. And for the past couple of years, he has taken the inhaler without my help – I watch from the other side of the room.
“Beau keeps his inhaler and spacer in a special bag in his bedroom.
“I used to worry a bit about the boys taking steroids every day, but I know for a fact I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had them when I was four – they saved my life. There’s a panic attitude around about steroids, but when you really think about it the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“Taking our preventer inhalers is part of the routine of life in our house. The boys don’t make a fuss about taking them because they both remember what it’s like to get symptoms and understand that the medicine helps to prevent them feeling bad."
Knowing our triggers
“Cold and damp weather is the worst trigger for all of us. In November, both boys tend to get a night-time cough. During a cold spell, we always make sure we wear neck ‘tubes’ around our mouths and noses – they’re a bit like scarves, but you can pull them up easier and they don’t unravel. Apparently wearing them warms up the air before we breathe it in and helps to prevent asthma symptoms.
“Catching a cold can cause their symptoms to flare up. Dust mites are another trigger. It’s hard to avoid both of these so using our preventers means we are less likely to react when we come across them. And we know to have our relievers handy if we have a cold or we’re visiting a dusty house.
“Certain types of exercise can set off asthma symptoms in both Gabriel and Beau. A cross country run is a typical example. The asthma nurse suggested they take two puffs of their blue inhaler if they ever feel tight-chested before exercise. I don’t worry because the school has a policy where the inhalers are always to hand during PE. Both boys are aware if their chest is getting tight and when they need their blue inhaler.
“Cigarette smoke sets off my asthma, so I’ve always made sure the boys aren’t ever around anyone smoking. For example, if we’re at a bus stop and somebody’s smoking, we move away. One of my brothers smokes, but he wouldn’t dream about having one in front of me, or the boys."
Taking the boys for regular asthma reviews
“We can’t avoid cold weather, colds or dust so I know the best way of keeping the boys’ asthma under control is by taking them to asthma reviews with the asthma nurse every six months. We sometimes see our GP in between, too.
“What we’ve agreed with the nurse now is that because their asthma symptoms tend to be worse in winter, we give them a slightly higher dose of preventer inhaler in the autumn and then return to the lower dose in the spring.
“I like the fact that I get to discuss the boys’ asthma symptoms and medicines. And they get their inhaler technique checked. It feels good to think we’re doing everything we can to minimise the risk of asthma attacks because then at least if they do get symptoms, I know I’ve done everything I possibly can to avoid them."
Dealing with asthma attacks
“If Gabriel gets bad asthma symptoms, we’ve found that using the asthma attack advice and giving him 10 puffs of his blue inhaler works well. We take him to see his GP the same day.
“18 months ago, we took Beau to hospital because the blue inhaler wasn’t working to get his symptoms under control. I know that just because I can’t hear the wheeze, it doesn’t mean he’s not struggling to breathe. He didn’t have to stay in overnight, but was given a course of steroid tablets. Since then his asthma has been under control again.
“In my experience, it’s harder to deal with asthma symptoms during the night – I think because you’re tired you’re less able to think clearly. Somehow you feel far more vulnerable. I’d say to anyone who has a child with asthma, don’t hesitate to call 999 – especially if it’s the middle of the night. They’d rather see you than for you to wait until it’s too late."
Asthma at school
“When Gabriel started school, I had to fill in a form with all the details of his asthma and medicines. I have to go in every six months to check the form is up to date and that his inhalers are all working and still in date.
“If either of the boys has a cold, I go in and tell the class teacher that they need to go to the office if they’re coughing a lot. I don’t want to be seen as a neurotic mother, but I worry that teachers aren’t trained to spot symptoms and in a class of 30 children they might easily miss the signs. Both my boys also know that if they’re coughing a lot they should ask their teacher if they can go to the office for their inhaler.
“Generally I don’t think teachers know enough about asthma or realise how serious it can be. Nut allergies are taken seriously, but asthma doesn’t seem to be – even though they are both potentially life-threatening conditions."
Enjoying a good support network
“My husband Simon took a while to learn about asthma because he hadn’t come across the condition before. He works full-time and as I do the majority of the childcare, I’m usually the first person to deal with any of the boys’ asthma symptoms. He is my backup though. We talk a lot about anything that’s worrying us – it’s good for me to share things with him.
“On a practical level, my parents have been brilliant. They know how to deal with asthma because of me, so I feel safe leaving the boys with them. And if I’ve been up all night with one of the boys my mum knows how I feel. She’ll come round with a meal or put a wash on. And they’re always at the end of the phone if I need to download.
“I’m really lucky to have good support. It helps me get through the difficult patches."
Spotting symptoms in friends
“Gabriel has spotted asthma symptoms in two of his friends! On two separate occasions he said to me, ‘Mum, so-and-so keeps coughing and I think they might have asthma.’ I spoke to the mums. They took them to the doctor and both got a diagnosis of asthma.
“I think it was far easier for me to spot the warning signs in my own children because I’ve been through it myself. But in general I don’t think people are aware of the tell-tale signs of asthma. Those two mums weren’t and they were both really grateful we’d noticed and said something."
A positive attitude
“The boys aren’t embarrassed to use their inhalers in public. We’ve always made it a very matter-of-fact part of life.
“I try not to let asthma stop us doing anything. My mum and dad taught me that if you want to do something, you don’t let asthma hold you back. You make plans around it so your life doesn’t have to change. I’ve never viewed asthma as a problem and I hope I’m passing that attitude on to my boys.”