A MOTHER whose ten-year-old son died from an asthma attack hopes a new in-depth study will improve the way patients are diagnosed and treated.
The first major nationwide study into deaths from asthma carried out by the Royal College of Physicians concluded there were "failings in routine asthma care" in 70 per cent of cases reviewed over a 12 month period.
Claire O'Beirne, whose son Malcolm died from an attack in 2003, hopes the new study will also raise awareness amongst families about the potentially serious nature of the condition.
She said many people aren't aware asthma attacks can be triggered in many different ways and there is no simple 'catch all' way of treating the condition.
Mrs O'Beirne said: "One person might be very allergic to something and that might be their trigger. For another it might be infection. It seems people just lump it all together.
"One of the recommendations is some people do need to see specialists and get more in depth diagnosis.
"Less than a quarter of cases studied had an asthma action plan. It should be able to identify your triggers, how often to take medication. There's good evidence they reduce the likelihood of an attack but they are not used enough."
She said there are still a number of misconceptions about the condition - even among medical professionals.
Many sufferers are killed by an attack far more severe than anything they have previously encountered and half hadn't had any medical treatment for the condition.
That was the case with Malcolm, a former pupil at the Elangeni School in Amersham.
Mrs O'Beirne, a 53-year-old company secretary from Chesham, said: "He was active - he liked swimming, he was in Cubs and was always out playing with his friends. We thought his asthma was quite well controlled. It was considered mild or moderate.
"The attitude seemed to be it was something he would grow out of. He had eczma as a baby and it was really severe at one point. That level of eczma was probably a warning he would be one of the higher risk people.
"The key thing would be for people to realise asthma can be very serious. It isn't always this mild disease children grow out of and a couple of puffs of an inhaler sorts it out.
"People get used to a pattern of symptoms. The final attack wasn't the same kind they were used to - it was very sudden and very severe."
Mrs O'Beirne now volunteers at Asthma UK as a support worker to recently bereaved families.
She said: "Many families are absolutely shocked. Typically they have never been aware this could be an outcome.
"Even though the number of people who die from asthma is relatively low, it's still too high given the sort of care that should be available."
To view the report go to www.rcplondon.ac.uk/sites/default/files/why-asthma-still-kills-full-report.pdf.