"Looking back, I think Harriet had asthma from when she was born but it first became obvious just before her third birthday. She'd had a cold and was breathing loudly, couldn't sleep and wasn’t eating much. I put it down to a chesty cough. But after a couple of days she asked me to carry her to the toilet and I realised it might be something more serious. I phoned the doctor and they fitted her in that evening. He gave her steroids but told me to take her straight to the hospital, right there and then.
"Harriet ended up being kept in for a few nights. She was on oxygen for a couple of days – it was such a scary time. When she was discharged, she was given a preventer inhaler and we used that for a while. But we didn't have a diagnosis of asthma because the doctor said they didn’t like to label children under five with the condition and wanted to wait and see how it developed."
"Over the next few years, symptoms would come up when Harriet had a cold and we also noticed they were triggered by moulds and damp air – for example, when we were drying lots of washing indoors. Teachers would sometimes say she was coughing a lot. We went back to the doctor as and when. From around the age of eight she used a preventer inhaler regularly and had reviews with the nurse.
"I didn’t feel confident about managing Harriet’s asthma, though. We didn't have a written asthma action plan and although we were given a peak flow meter, we weren't told how to use it. It sat in the cupboard unopened. But we muddled along because Harriet's symptoms only seemed to come up when she had a cold and the weather was very damp.
"Things came to a head in spring 2015. From Easter, Harriet had one cold after another. She had three courses of antibiotics and two sets of steroid pills to try to clear her chest. One day when I took her to the doctor she was wheezing walking up the stairs. Harriet goes to swimming club and had been swimming over five hours a week but she told me she was going to have to stop because she wasn't well enough. She said, 'Mummy, cancel my subscription to the club. I can’t do it any more.' It was heartbreaking as I knew how much she loved it. A couple of times, she coughed up a lot of clear mucus, which really upset her.
"After a bad weekend, I wasn't sure what to do anymore. I didn’t think we'd get the help we needed just going back to the GP. Harriet was going through two reliever inhalers every week and I was so worried."
A turning point
"In desperation, I rang the Asthma UK Helpline. The nurse I spoke to was very kind and listened to everything I said. She explained she couldn’t diagnose Harriet but could make some suggestions I could run by my GP. The nurse thought it was possible Harriet might have allergic rhinitis rather than constant colds, and explained how that could be triggering her asthma symptoms. She said that an antihistamine and a nasal spray could make a big difference, and suggested asking the GP for advice.
"The nurse also explained what the peak flow meter was for and how to use it. Up until then, I’d been getting Harriet to explain her symptoms to try to work out how she was. The Asthma UK nurse told me that it sounded as though Harriet was very likely to have an asthma attack soon. She advised me to go and pick her up from school and take her immediately to the GP, ask about a change of medicine and push for a referral to a specialist."
Harriet is so much better
"I'm so glad I did that. We were given a new preventer medicine, an antihistamine and a nasal spray. And we got a consultant appointment the following month. At the hospital, we were shown properly how to use Harriet's new inhaler. She was given lots of tests, including an allergy test that confirmed a moulds allergy.
"We had three appointments with the consultant in total and Harriet is now doing so much better. I’m confident she's on the right medicine and we’re using it properly. She’s back at swimming club, and we have a written asthma action plan so we know exactly what to do if her symptoms get worse again. I'd tell anyone with questions about their child’s asthma to call the Asthma UK Helpline."