Caring for children with asthma

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. 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.  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.”

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. “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 cases, 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 or and visit our social pages for regular updates: and