Asthma Facts & Figures

Asthma affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of our lungs.

When someone with asthma comes into contact with an asthma trigger (see below), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten, narrowing them. The airways become inflamed and swell. If sticky mucus builds up, the airways become even more restricted. There are many descriptions of the symptoms of asthma but imagine breathing through a fireman's hose and suddenly finding it has narrowed to the size of a drinking straw.

Symptoms vary between individuals and with every occasion but generally involved one, some or all of the following: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest.

Asthma is an incurable lifelong condition but can usually be treated successfully to ease conditions. Some people with asthma have many severe attacks a year, some never have a severe attack. Some people with asthma experience a sudden change in their condition, others experience gradual changes. Some people with asthma find their lives are dramatically altered due to their condition, some barely notice it. Most people with asthma fall somewhere between those extremes.

Every asthma sufferer is likely to carry a reliever inhaler with them at all times (even if they haven't experienced symptoms for a long time). This is the blue inhaler you will probably have seen used many times. It relieves the symptoms as they begin by relaxing the muscles and so allowing the airways to open wider. Sometimes a person with asthma will use their blue inhaler before they are exposed to one of their triggers.

Many asthma sufferers also use preventer inhalers. These are usually brown or red and are used daily to help control the condition. These are usually a low-dose, low side-effect steroid inhaler.

There are other medications available and, depending on the severity or fragility of their condition, people with asthma may use a number of these in combination.

Most children, and some adults, use a spacer to help deliver the medication. This is a chamber that attaches to the inhaler. It allows more time to breathe in the medication, reduces side effects and ensures that more of the medication gets to where it's needed.

Every asthma sufferer has a different set of triggers. Among the most common are:

contact with animals

pollution (like car emissions)

exposure to smoke (from bonfires and especially tobacco)

ozone (higher on hot summer days)

colds & respiratory viruses

emotions (such as stress, extreme laughter & upset)

exercise (because of extra physical effort & environmental conditions such as swimming pool chlorine)

certain foods

medication (aspirin & NSAIDs can cause attacks)

hormones (puberty, 'time of the month' & menopause can cause changes in asthma symptoms)

moulds & spores


weather conditions (asthmatics should stay indoors with windows & doors closed during and just after thunderstorms, cold air can aggravate the condition, and windy weather can be very problematic).

In the UK 5.4 million people have asthma.

79 percent of these are adults.

1 in 11 children have asthma, meaning that, on average, 2 children in every class have asthma.

1 in 12 adults have asthma.

On average 1 person dies from asthma every 7 hours.

It is estimated that 90 percent of these deaths are preventable.

Indeed 75 percent of asthma-related hospital admissions are also preventable.

61 percent of people with asthma say the condition affects their sleep.

42 percent say traffic fumes prevent them walking in areas of high traffic congestion.