Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Medicine technique - get it checked

Following on from my post on 6th May 2014 about asthma inhaler technique…

In the last week, a new US report had revealed that a significant number of people with asthma don't receive adequate training on how best to use an inhaler and allergy sufferers don't know how to use their adrenaline pens (Epipen or Jext) properly. Asthma UK and Allergy UK are calling for improved training.

The research is due to be published in January 2015 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The researchers found that common problems with adrenaline pens were not pressing them hard enough or letting go too early (before the required 10 seconds had passed). With inhalers, most people received a less powerful dose than they needed, potentially meaning their breathing would continue to worsen.

If you suffer from any medical condition (either regularly or intermittently), it's essential that you make sure you know how to use your medicines properly - whether it's an asthma inhaler, adrenaline pen or even eye drops for glaucoma. Ask your pharmacist for advice or, even better, a practical demonstration.

Visit Asthma UK's website (click here) for essential demonstrations on inhaler technique, click here for advice on using Epipens and here for Jext advice.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Keeping allergic teens (and pre-teens) safe

Most people take eating out for granted. But for food allergy sufferers, a seemingly simple restaurant meal or takeaway can be a game of Russian roulette. It's not surprising that the fear of having a severe allergic reaction leads many people with a food allergy to eat only home-cooked meals. Hopefully though, this is set to change.

Since 13th December 2014, new EU regulations mean that food outlets have to provide allergen information on menus, chalkboards or information packs - and staff must be able to supply details about the ingredients in the foods they sell.  Fourteen allergens now have to be listed within the ingredients section and must be highlighted in some way (e.g. in bold), rather than having a separate allergen warning box.

Understandable this is causing some concern within the catering industry, as supplying the allergen information and, most importantly, keeping it up to date is no straightforward task. Suppliers change and menus vary, not to mention the extra staff training required.

As the mother of an 11 year old with nut allergy, I am hoping these new regulations will give me some peace of mind as my son steps out on his own. He is at an age where he wants to go out and about with the same freedom as his friends. However, there is always a nagging 'what if' feeling at the back of my mind. 

Even with the new rules in place, ultimately he still has to remember to read the menu carefully and/or ask whether the restaurant's chocolate ice cream, for example, contains peanut or pecan (the two nuts he is allergic to). And he also needs to carry his allergy medicines with him at all times (just in case).

As children reach the teenage years, there is a fine line between encouraging independence and keeping them safe. I don't want to be a neurotic mother or leave him feeling over-anxious. My son has been aware of the dangers since he was diagnosed at the age of four, and we have drummed into him the importance of checking the food he is about to eat. Fortunately, he hasn't had a food-related allergic reaction since he was diagnosed and has never had a severe reaction. But teenagers (and pre-teens) often feel under pressure to conform or take risks. I feel that he was safer at primary school, when I knew all of his friends and their mothers were aware of his allergy. When he went to parties, the food was always nut free. Now there's no guarantee.

So every so often, when he is about to leave the house, I remind him of the basic rules to follow:

1. Carry his medicines (anti-histamine and adrenaline pens) with him at all times - it doesn't matter whether he is out for the day or just popping to the park. It's not worth taking the risk. Rather than keeping his medicines loose in his pocket or school bag, he carries them in a medicine bag from YellowCross.

2. Practise using his adrenaline pens (I have a trainer dummy pen from the manufacturer).

3. Alert his friends and their parents to his allergy (without worrying them unnecessary). When he has a sleepover, for example, I would prefer it if the family doesn't have any peanut butter on the table at breakfast time.

4. Ensure he wears his allergy ID jewellery at all times, just in case we are not there in an emergency. My son wears his MedicAlert sports band on his wrist every day - even when he is swimming or playing sport. It's become a part of him and he even sleeps with it on. 

If you have a child with an allergy, you will want to keep them safe, healthy and independent. My book Allergies: A Parents' Guide (published by Need2Know Books) contains essential background information and practical advice. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Our pill-popping nation

The latest Health Survey for England, published today, reveals that 50% of women and 43% of men in England take prescription medicines on a regular basis. In 2013, over one billion prescription items were dispensed by community pharmacists in England. That's an average of 2.7 million items every day and 18.7 prescription items per person in England in 2013. The cost to the NHS in 2013 exceeded £15 billion.

Twenty-two percent of men and 24% of women in the survey reported that they had taken at least three prescribed medicines in the last week. Cholesterol-lowering statins, blood pressure medicines, painkillers and anti-depressants were amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs.

In England, more than 15 million people currently have a long-term condition, which is placing a significant burden on health, welfare and social services. According to the Department of Health, this figure is set to increase over the next 10 years, with rising numbers of people suffering from three or more conditions at once. And as the population ages, the problem is likely to get worse.

If you look at some of the medicines being prescribed in large quantities - e.g. statins and blood pressure pills - these are for conditions that are often related to lifestyle choices. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly one in four deaths - more than 100,000 every year - are potentially avoidable.

It's easy to blame the government, political leaders and healthcare system for the state of the nation's health. But should we also be doing more as individuals?

In November 2014, The Richmond Group of Charities (including the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer) highlighted that taking action to tackle common risk factors (e.g. smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet and alcohol) would drastically reduce the number of people affected by conditions such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes.

According to the Richmond Group of Charities, as individuals we can try to adopt healthy behaviours to protect and improve our wellbeing - and even if we are diagnosed with a health condition, we can still take steps to improve our quality of life and try to prevent our health spiralling downhill even further.

The facts gathered by The Richmond Group of Charities speak for themselves:

  • 75% of cardiovascular disease is preventable
  • 80% of strokes are preventable
  • Up to 30% of Alzheimer's disease cases are attributable to modifiable risk factors
  • If every woman in the UK was regularly physically active, 9,000 fewer women would develop breast cancer each year
  • Up to half of all cancers could be prevented by changes in lifestyle behaviours.

So should we all be taking a more preventative approach? Should we be looking at keeping ourselves fitter and healthier to avoid taking medicines in the long-term? Or should we just accept that, at some point, we will join the rest of the pill-popping nation.