'We were never once told that an asthma attack could be fatal - we had no idea'
A mother who lost her son is warning parents to make sure their children are taking the right medicine, writes Mark O'Regan
The mother of a 16-year-old boy who died suddenly from an asthma attack has issued a stark warning that preventative medication must be taken daily to manage the condition.
An average of one person dies every week in Ireland from an asthma attack.
Tragically, in 2016, Joan McLoughlin's son Dylan became yet another victim. He was mountain biking with friends during half-term break when he suffered a fatal attack.
An avid rugby player and a "great kid", he lived in Naas, Co Kildare, with his mother and father, Joan and Tom, and brothers Fionn and Glen.
Joan said Dylan enjoyed a varied sporting life and his death came completely out of the blue. But she said she was speaking out now to warn others that the consequences could be fatal if asthma was not managed properly.
She said all sufferers - even those who are fit and active - must stick rigidly to their prescribed medical programme.
Joan said rugby was "Dylan's thing", and he never allowed his condition to interfere with his sporting pursuits.
"He was very easy-going and very happy-go-lucky. Nothing fazed him and he was always smiling," she said. "Basically, his asthma never stopped him doing anything.
"He especially loved his rugby, and in the last year and a half before he died he got into mountain biking as well. He went rugby training on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and if he didn't have a match on Saturday, he was out mountain biking.
"During the summer he would surf. He was also in a boxing club."
Joan stressed that growing up her son was never a "bad asthmatic".
"When he was eight months old, we had our first visit to Crumlin Hospital.
"It took a couple of visits before they said Dylan was asthmatic, and we were sent home with the blue inhaler."
On the day Dylan died he was out cycling with his younger brother and friends. Joan and Tom were attending a family funeral, when they received a phone call to say Dylan had collapsed.
They rushed to be at his hospital bedside where he later died.
Joan stressed that a large number of asthma sufferers in Ireland were still not properly educated about the dangers of the condition if it was not managed properly.
Attitudes must change, and awareness increased, particularly among parents, was vital, she added.
"We needed to be told it's a possibility that an asthma attack can be fatal.
"We were never once told it could be fatal - we had no idea."
She added that GPs needed to be more stringent in giving advice to patients. "I really don't think parents are being made aware of how bad it can get," she said.
Meanwhile, the Asthma Society has launched a new TV and social media advertising campaign in a bid to raise awareness of the disease.
Society CEO Averil Power said she had met a number of families who had lost a loved one owing to asthma complications. One victim was aged only seven.
"In most cases they were very fit, healthy and active young people, who didn't think their asthma was a problem," she said. "As a result they weren't taking their preventative medication."
An audit of asthma deaths has never been carried out in Ireland.
However, Ms Power highlighted a UK study which showed the majority of people who die have mild or moderate asthma.
"They don't think it's a problem. Some people don't realise that when you're having a serious attack the blue inhaler is not going to work," she said. "For many people their first serious attack could be their last."
Asthma sufferers require two types of medicines to control the condition. A blue reliever inhaler is used to try to ease the symptoms.
However, preventative medicine should be taken every day as prescribed.
"The difficulty is that a lot of people don't take the preventative medicine," said Ms Power.
"There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that it is expensive, costing about €60 or €70 a month.
"If you have epilepsy or diabetes, you get your medication for free under the Government's long-term illness scheme. You don't if you have asthma.
"Parents say that they have to make horrible decisions. They say at back- to-school time they have to decide whether to buy their child shoes or buy their preventative medicine."
Overall, there was a lack of awareness about just how serious asthma could be. However, Ms Power said the condition was manageable, providing the medicinal regime was strictly adhered to.
You can donate €4 to the Asthma Society by texting BREATHE to 50300.