Meet the asthma nurse

Lesley Barrett is the George Coller Asthma Nurse at Birmingham Children's Hospital, so called because she is funded by the George Coller Memorial Fund named after a three-year-old boy who died from the illness.

Asthma is a common condition that affects the lungs. An asthmatic (a person who has asthma) may be affected by different things such as pets, smoking, damp and mould, which are called "triggers".

These triggers cause swelling in the linings of the windpipe (the tube in your body that carries air from your nose and mouth into your lungs), which causes the muscles around the lungs to tighten up. This makes it difficult to breathe.

One child in 11 suffers from it, but by following a care plan, asthmatics can lead normal lives.

Lesley helps patients – and their parents – understand what the condition is and how they should use the medicine they have been given to treat their asthma.

Most importantly, she shows them how their condition can be kept under control so they can live as normal a life as possible.

Children all ages, from babies to teens, are referred to Lesley, who writes individual care plans for all her patients.

When she first meets patients who have been diagnosed with asthma, she looks at their medical history and establishes what they need to know.

In particular, Lesley will go over:

  • What asthma is and how it affects people
  • What triggers their asthma
  • What the medicine is that they have been prescribed and what it does
  • How to manage their symptoms
  • Techniques for using the inhalers properly and when they should be used
  • Hygiene – how to wash the inhalers
  • What to do if they become ill
  • When they should see a doctor

"Sometimes children can be very anxious and ask lots of questions when they come in to see me, while others don't know about asthma at all," explains Lesley.

"They may need reassurance or they may need me to go to their school to put in a care plan, but the first thing I need to know is, what do they want? What are their aims? What way is it affecting them?

"That way I can help them and help to manage their asthma so they don't have to put up with the symptoms."

Lesley uses lots of pictures and diagrams to help explain what asthma is and how it affects their lungs and breathing.

"It is very visual," she explains. "I show them how it affects the lungs and how the lungs are affected by triggers. It's important to know if they know what triggers their asthma and explain what the most common ones are because they may not realise that more than one can affect them.

"The aim is the discharge them into the community with them fully prepared and properly equipped to do so."

Everyone has an asthma action plan, so they know exactly what to do if they become ill, when they should see their GP and what to do in an emergency, and Lesley also offers telephone support to patients if they need help.

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