'It's terrifying': How Noah's flare-up became a life-threatening asthma attack


Training teachers to recognise the warning signs of an asthma flare-up could be the difference between preventing a life-threatening attack and the tragic death of a child.

A lack of education among school staff was a constant concern for Noah's family.

The nine-year-old has been rushed to hospital with a severe asthma attack five times in his life. Two of those life-threatening episodes flared up while he was at his Sydney primary school.

"It's absolutely terrifying," said Noah's father, Lloyd.

"He can't breathe, he couldn't walk. We've had to carry him into the Sydney Childrens Hospital," he said.

Only an administration worker at Noah's school trained to recognise the warning signs.

"If that one person isn't on hand when he has an attack there's no one who knows what to do. It's scary," Lloyd said.

"It's not the teachers' fault. They hadn't been educated to recognise the warning signs or how to act.

On Monday Health Minister Brad Hazzard launched two new initiatives - a first-aid e-book and standardised action plan - to improve the way NSW schools respond to asthma attacks among students.

"It's brilliant for Noah and other kids with asthma," Lloyd said.

"If you recognise the signs immediately you can head it off, or at least reduce the dramatic effect to a minor event," he said.

The Schools and Child Services Action Plan for Asthma Flare-Up and e-book would help teachers and other school staff identify when a child has a flare-up and act quickly to alleviate asthma attacks, Minster Hazzard said.

"Asthma is often not understood as a potential killer, but sadly, on average, it claims the lives of two children every year," said Minister Hazzard, an asthmatic himself.

"No child should die from asthma. It is vital that people looking after children know how to recognise signs of an asthma flare-up and how best to respond," he said.

A 2014 NSW ombudsman report found 20 children died from asthma between 2004 and 2013.

Many of the children included in the report had exhibited symptoms at school before they died.

One in 10 Australian children have asthma, meaning on average every classroom could have at least one or two children with the condition.

The launch of the asthma school resources come after days of warnings from NSW Health authorities for all asthma and hay fever sufferers to be prepared for unexpected weather changes that may trigger an attack.

Professor Adam Jaffe, associate Director of Research at Sydney Childrens Hospital Network (SCHN) said school could not afford to be complacent about asthma, which could be as dangerous as food allergies.

"School and staff need to be aware of how to recognise a flare-up and what to do about it," Professor Jaffe said.

The single-form action plan is based on best practice and evidence-based approaches, and resembles the anaphylaxis action plan currently in place at NSW schools.

It replaces a hodge podge of ad hoc asthma plans that varied between schools that had the potential to provide conflicting advice and confuse teachers, Professor Jaffe said.

The tools were designed to help teachers distinguish between a mild, moderate or life-threatening flare-up, which should trigger a triple zero call for an ambulance.

Signs of an asthma attack included breathlessness, difficulty talking, quietness, or occasionally wheezing.

The action plan also gives a clear and concise approach to asthma attacks, whether it be as simple as sitting calmly, using a reliever appropriately, or calling triple zero.

The e-book includes quizzes, videos and case studies to build teachers' confidence when it comes to responding to an asthma attack. The free resource will be available to all NSW teachers and school staff and free in 51 countries.

"These resources offer best-practice training and information for all school staff, not just those able to attend face-to-face training."

The Asthma First-Aid Management in School e-book and the Schools and Child Services Action Plan for Asthma Flare-Up were joint initiatives by respiratory specialists at the SCHN and is free to download from Apple iTunes.

This story 'It's terrifying': How Noah's flare-up became a life-threatening asthma attack first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.