New breath test used in North East could prevent asthma attacks

A breath test being used by experts in the region has been recommended for use on the NHS to help prevent asthma attacks

A GP measures FeNo with a patient
A GP measures FeNo with a patient

A new breath test being used in a North East hospital has been recommended for use on the NHS in the hope of preventing asthma attacks.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) yesterday issued new guidance for the NHS recommending the use of simple, 10-second tests to help diagnose and treat asthma in children and adults.

It is hoped the breath tests - which check airway inflammation and could help to prevent asthma attacks and hospitalisations for those with the condition - will now be made widely available on the NHS.

Children in the North East are already benefiting from the 10-second test. Carried out with a handheld device, the test measures fractional exhaled nitric oxide, or FeNO, levels, which are higher in people with asthma than those without, to help diagnose and manage the condition effectively.

Experts at the Great North Children’s Hospital at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary are already carrying out FeNO tests in their asthma clinic. They fed their experience through to NICE as part of the process to draw up the guidelines for the rest of the NHS.

While clinicians in the region said it could be difficult for young children to breathe out for the time needed to carry out the test, they are measuring the FeNO levels of most paediatric patients.

Farmer Colin Walker has had his life improved by new asthma treatment
Farmer Colin Walker has had his life improved by new asthma treatment

The Great North Children’s Hospital told NICE: “Reported benefits of the test were its use in predicting the onset of asthma symptoms or loss of control. Clinicians also recognised its help in diagnosing the type of airway inflammation, providing relevant information to guide treatment and enabling medical staff to monitor compliance with treatments.”

The new guidelines must now be taken into account when doctors decide on the best way to treat their patients.

NICE is recommending FeNO testing as an option to diagnose and manage asthma as well as to help patients who still have symptoms even with treatment.

The body believes the test could help medics find the best medication for their patients earlier, potentially avoiding hospital admissions because of asthma attacks. Prof Carole Longson, NICE’s health technology evaluation centre director, said: “Diagnosing asthma is often a very complicated and lengthy process. Using these devices can provide additional information for clinicians about those people who, following clinical examination, are considered to have an intermediate probability of having asthma.”

A North East farmer whose livelihood was threatened as he struggled to work with severe asthma says he feels like a new man after trying the new treatment. Colin Walker, 56, has suffered from asthma for over 12 years and his attacks had got so bad he had to sell the family’s dairy herd as it was too difficult to milk them twice a day.

He said: “I feel like a new man. I have just been to Canada on holiday, the first holiday I have been able to take since I first got asthma. I am so grateful and I want to show other people who are living with the burden of asthma that it can improve with the right treatment and management.”


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