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2 out of 3 asthma deaths are preventable- local health charity’s stark warning

20 Jun 2023
Asthma child

This week sees the launch of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s (NICHS) asthma awareness campaign which comes as a result of the charity’s concern the public do not realise just how serious asthma can be. With approximately 1 in 10 people in Northern Ireland having asthma, including 36,000 children, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the condition, how dangerous it can be and the importance of the correct use of inhalers.

Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS explains; “The fact 2 out of 3 asthma deaths are preventable is unacceptable. Through our asthma awareness campaign, we want to help prevent future asthma deaths, make people think twice about asthma, as well as take their inhalers properly. This means taking their preventer inhaler daily and ensuring they carry their reliever inhaler with them at all times.”

“Alarmingly, a 2022 article by King’s College London stated up to 80% of asthma patients use their asthma inhalers incorrectly. ¹ Furthermore, only 15% of health care professionals are educated on correct inhaler use which means they are not passing on the right techniques to patients². This situation needs to change as the blunt fact is asthma can be fatal and it is vital everyone with asthma is empowered and educated with the knowledge and skills on how to use inhalers correctly to help prevent unnecessary attacks and deaths.”

There are several other issues the charity’s campaign is hoping to tackle. Fidelma continues; “We know some people are not taking their brown preventer inhaler everyday which is crucial as this builds up protection in the airways over time to help prevent asthma attacks. We also know people are not carrying their blue reliever inhaler with them which means if they have an attack they are without the lifeline they need. Others think they do not have asthma anymore and mistakenly stop their treatment without consulting their healthcare professional. These are all behaviours which we want to try and change through our asthma awareness campaign.”

A 2019 analysis of 19 high-income countries found that death rates for asthma in 10 to 24-year-olds, among all 14 European nations included, was highest in the UK³. Fidelma comments; “This is a shocking statistic and is why we are targeting children, teens, young adults and parents as part of this campaign-there is no room for complacency with this potentially deadly condition.”

“Our campaign has been developed in conjunction with our Asthma Partnership Group which includes leading asthma healthcare professionals in response to community needs and the shocking asthma statistics, and includes outdoor, digital and radio advertising as well as a range of educational materials. We have developed superhero characters, Peter the Preventer and Raya the Reliever- the aim is to show children their inhalers are their superpower and give them the ability to play, join in and have fun like everyone else.”

“It is essential children master the technique of taking their inhalers correctly from a young age and that they are taught about the importance of prevention i.e. taking their preventer inhaler every day and making sure their reliever inhaler goes everywhere with them. Children, young people and adults should know how to spot the signs of an asthma attack coming on and what to do if this happens. Early education will hopefully lead to better asthma management as the child moves through their teenage years and into adulthood and reduce the number of potential asthma deaths.”

“Parents and carers are also hugely responsible for helping their child manage their asthma correctly as set out in their Personal Asthma Action Plan. We cannot stress enough how important it is for parents to play an active role in ensuring their child is taking their inhalers regularly and properly. They should check their child’s inhaler use technique and if they have any doubts about whether this is correct they should make an appointment with their GP, asthma nurse or a pharmacist. The NICHS website also has lots of resources and information about asthma and you can find out more at”

Professor Mike Shields is a retired consultant respiratory paediatrician with 30 years of experience treating children with asthma. He also sits on NICHS’s Governance Board and Asthma Partnership Group alongside others, including clinicians. Professor Shields says; “NICHS’s Asthma Partnership Group identified the need for an asthma education programme that aims to reduce the burden of asthma in children and young people in Northern Ireland by way of delivering and implementing a comprehensive education programme including an asthma awareness campaign in order to improve the delivery of the basics of asthma care.”

Professor Shields explains there are some common mistakes related to asthma management; "Unfortunately many people with asthma think using just their reliever inhaler is sufficient. They might put their preventer inhaler into the medicine cupboard for use if they have a bad attack, but it doesn't work for bad attacks - it needs to be used every day.”

“Children and young people diagnosed with asthma should be shown how to use their inhalers correctly, checked that they can do this and should have a Personal Asthma Action Plan prescribed and reviewed by their consulting clinician. This action plan allows each child, or parent/carer, to record his or her asthma treatment to help manage their asthma when they are well, when their symptoms get worse and when they are suffering an asthma attack.”

“In 2021, the last year for which figures are available, 35 people in Northern Ireland died from asthma and the sad reality is that many of these deaths could have been prevented through better basic care and correct inhaler use. NICHS’s asthma awareness campaign will hopefully make people think twice about this condition and its potentially deadly impact.”

For further information and support about asthma visit,