Amid the growing concerns surrounding the declining health of children under five in the UK, a critical and often overlooked aspect is the profound mental health toll on those grappling with long-term respiratory conditions, specifically asthma.
For many children dealing with persistent respiratory conditions, the struggle extends beyond the physical.
The fear of triggering respiratory flare-ups often leads these young individuals to abstain from everyday activities, living in constant fear of not being able to breathe.
“They’re reluctant to do these things because they’re afraid that their condition will flare-up; in acute cases, they’re literally living in fear of not being able to breathe,” notes Dr Ameera Patel, CEO of TidalSense.
Diagnosing long-term respiratory conditions in children is notably challenging, primarily due to the lack of applicable diagnostic testing.
Spirometry, a common diagnostic tool for respiratory conditions, cannot reliably be carried out in children under the age of five, leaving young children undiagnosed and described only by symptoms such as “viral wheeze”.
This dual burden of physical and mental health challenges is particularly concerning given the increased risk of anxiety among children diagnosed with asthma.
“Early studies indicate, for example, that children diagnosed with asthma are at significantly increased risk of developing anxiety – it’s a potentially massive problem at a time when respiratory illnesses are on the rise and more children are being exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution,” adds Dr Patel.
While the need for better diagnostic approaches is crucial, Dr Patel acknowledges the time required for new technology to achieve mainstream adoption.
In the meantime, she urges parents, teachers, GPs, nursery workers, and anyone involved with children to be more mindful of suspected respiratory conditions, even in the absence of a formal diagnosis.
She concludes: “Crucially, we all need to start talking about this issue so that we can start to make progress on dealing with children’s mental well-being, even if the UK’s respiratory care shortcomings persist in the longer term.”
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