Caring for Children with Asthma

by Claire Minnaar

A little on me and my asthma story

My brother and I are asthmatics – my asthma experience doesn’t come close to what my brother has had to deal with his whole life though. My asthma only started later in life, but his was from a very young age and he was in hospital a few times because of it. Having experienced asthma myself and watching what he had to deal with over the years, I have a big interest in people understanding asthma and knowing how to deal with it in the best way possible. And, with being a parent, I want to know even more for the safety of my kids.

It’s so easy to go to a pharmacy and get an over the counter asthma pump, but unless you are educated on asthma, you can land up making things worse for yourself. For example, certain pumps cause me to have heart palpitations (not funny!), but others do what they should and only have the wanted affect of being able to help me breathe properly.

When you can’t breathe, it’s scary. I have been in that situation many times and don’t wish it upon anyone. While my kids don’t have asthma (touch wood!), they do have sensitive chests and they have needed help with opening their chests to be able to breathe better.

The scary thing about asthma is it can be triggered by different factors and it can happen to anyone – you can be the most healthy person on the planet and you could experience it.

Why I am sharing this piece today is to raise awareness around this “disease” because, whether you have it or not, it’s good to acknowledge it exists and understand the following on it:

  • Asthma causes and risks
  • Asthma symptoms
  • Asthma triggers e.g. for me, it’s stress and heavy exercise or cardio
  • How to get a proper diagnosis and get the RIGHT treatment

I strongly encourage you to read the below which is part of a national education campaign called #Yes2Breathe. Get educated on asthma (the signs, symptoms, etc) but most, importantly, understand the risks of overusing your blue SABA reliever inhaler which can so easily happen. New global research suggests that over use is actually dangerous and can increase the likelihood of asthma attacks. This research overturns nearly 30 years of asthma care and is the start of a new way of managing this respiratory illness – which affects so many South Africans – adults and children alike. I believe knowledge is power and having knowledge on the topic of overusing your inhaler and asthma as a whole – can keep you and your family safe.

For more information, visit the links below.


Firsthand information from Doctors

Listen to the Podcast

Every child deserves to breathe easy

There are 50 million children under the age of 15 living with asthma in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them are reportedly in South Africa.1 For parents or caregivers of these children managing the illness can be complicated and stressful. Added to that, new information suggests that asthma treatment needs urgent re-examining, leaving parents with questions about the dangers of being over reliant on reliever pumps.

Doctor Marlin McKay, a GP at the Goldman Medical Centre in Johannesburg explains, “When children are diagnosed with the respiratory disease, they are normally prescribed with two different types of inhalers, a maintenance inhaler and a symptom relieving inhaler. 2,3 Findings show that patients with asthma – not precluding children, will frequently underuse the maintenance inhaler which contains an anti-inflammatory therapy, and instead, over-rely on the symptom reliever inhaler. It is usually blue in colour and contains an item which opens up the airways known as short-acting beta2 agonists (SABA) therefore providing rapid and temporary relief for children. The problem with this approach is it can mask the worsening of symptoms and actually increases their risk of asthma attacks.”4-7

The good news for parents concerned that their children may indeed be overusing the blue pump, is that over-reliance can easily be established, thanks to a first-of-its-kind digital assessment tool. Developed by leading experts in behavioural medicine, the evidence-based questionnaire measures potential overuse of SABA reliever therapy for those who live with asthma.


Empowering parents

Dr McKay explains, “By answering five short questions the test result will empower parents to assess their children’s over-reliance on their SABA blue reliever inhaler 8. The online Reliever Reliance Test will help parents to quickly identify if their little ones are in fact over-reliant.

“All it takes is answering five questions and the test will measure potential overuse of SABA reliever therapy when compared to maintenance therapy. The results are immediate and if your child is found to be over-reliant then I implore you to revisit their asthma management together with your health care professional. By doing so, your child’s risk of increased asthma attacks will be reduced. Anxiety about your child’s wellbeing will better controlled too.”

Breathing easy should not be an accomplishment

While there is no cure for asthma, it is important to work with your child’s doctor to treat it and prevent damage to their developing lungs. Controlled asthma in children is possible but it requires a solid asthma treatment plan and regular check-ins with a professional explains Dr McKay.

Seeing your child wheezy is not easy

Asthma is the most common chronic illness in South African children and its prevalence is increasing in both urban and rural areas.9 “It is very important to know your child’s triggers, and it’s even more important to manage and control the condition to minimise the risk of an attack and in some cases hospitalisations.  This includes having, and following an asthma action plan, knowing what to do in the case of an attack, and taking maintenance medication as prescribed to avoid flare ups,” advises Dr McKay. 

Khomotso Mashilane, Medical Director: African Cluster, at AstraZeneca adds, “Given the recent updates to global asthma management recommendations backed by leading expert opinion, AstraZeneca developed the Break Over-Reliance public health campaign to inform and educate patients, health professionals and policy makers. It centres around the potential dangers of SABA over-reliance and the urgent need to address this issue. As an established leader in respiratory care, we are committed to working with the respiratory community to provide tools that will help improve asthma control. Our aim is to eliminate preventable asthma attacks for the millions of children and adults who live with the illness in South Africa.”

Making the case for well-controlled asthma, Dr McKay concludes by asking South Africans to share the details of the reliever reliance test far and wide. “We all have to do more to reduce the prevalence of asthma mortality in our country. With an estimated 18.5 deaths per every 100,000 asthma cases10, we shouldn’t save our breath – we should share the test with everyone we know and love who lives with asthma.”

For more information about the Break Over-Reliance campaign and to take the Reliever Reliance Test, visit

References available on request.

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