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Asthma: The illness that need not kill

UK Asthma deaths are the highest in Europe. What needs to be done to avoid fatal attacks. The triggers, prevention and treatment of Asthma.   2014-05-14

“Asthma Patients dying needlessly” are the sensational headlines that hit the tabloids last month. The article went on to describe how a leaked confidential Royal College of Physicians report stated that deaths caused by Asthma in the UK are among the highest in Europe (up to 5.4 million people currently receiving asthma treatment).

How is it that despite all the advances in medicine, this condition can still kill?

The Basics: What is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory illness, and is a chronic condition, with random acute and critical exacerbations, which unfortunately for some people may affect them for their life time. An asthma attack (medically termed as a bronchospasm) is generated when a certain trigger (and each sufferer will usually be affected by a diverse range of allergic causative factors) such as certain foods and medications to exposure to second hand smoking, dust mites etc., causes the BRONCHI (airways) to narrow and go into spasm thus impairing breathing and causing symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and a shortness of breath.

Who gets Asthma?

There is not one answer. There are many factors that can lead to a person acquiring this chronic condition. The following may increase the likelihood:-

·  Genetic

Three out of five of all asthma cases are hereditary.

·   Modern lifestyle

Some specialists believe that we are just too clean. According to the “hygiene hypothesis”, our living conditions and clean lifestyles do not expose our children to dirt and germs as in the past and as a result, their immune systems are less occupied in fighting real dangers and thus more likely to react to otherwise harmless allergens.

Advocates of the theory also believe that exposure to the right bacteria in the womb or during early life is crucial, in order to train the immune system to distinguish harmful substances from harmless ones. They say that if a child’s immune system is not challenged enough, it is left underutilised and prone to overreact to harmless allergens. Studies have revealed that in parts of the world where sanitary conditions have not changed over the years, the level of allergies and inflammatory diseases has also remained constant.

This theory is supported by studies carried out on children who grew up in farms, where exposure to animals, dirt, and germs was unavoidable. They reveal that such children have a lower allergy rate. A study of children whose mothers lived on farms during pregnancy were 50 percent less likely to have asthma and significantly less likely to have allergies such as hay fever or eczema. The suggestion is that the exposure of pregnant women to allergens enables their bodies to create antibodies for the foetus as well. A study carried out in Canada had similar results.

·   Obesity

For unknown reasons a BMI greater than 30 increases the risk of non-allergic asthma by 50%.

·   Allergy sufferers

People who suffer from other related allergic reactions such as eczema, hay fever or food allergies have a higher chance of suffering from asthma.

·   Birth

Premature birth, low birth weight, mother smoking whilst pregnant, born by C-section.

·   Cigarettes

Exposure to cigarette smoke

Triggers that cause an Asthma attack

These are all individual to the sufferer, the most common being:

· Allergens (any substance that induces an allergic reaction) dust, pollen, pet hairs and even certain medication.

·   Chest infections.

·   Change in weather; hot, cold, foggy.

·   Stress both physical and emotional.

The most important thing is that the sufferer recognises that he is about to have an attack and takes preventive action.


There is no known cure for Asthma but there are two main types of treatment:

  1. Preventive with monitoring; this is to minimise an attack and keep the condition stable.
  2. Treatment-to combat an attack when it happens.

With medication available, what is going wrong?

The report found that in 47% of the cases studied, there had been prescription errors. GPs were found to be prescribing too many ‘reliever’ inhalers – to be used during an asthma attack – instead of preventive ones which control the symptoms over the long term. This may be due to costs pressures.

Also many of the patients did not have regular monitoring. No doctor saw the patient after a visit to A & E or if they were hospitalised.

Patient Compliance

The report also highlighted the patients' lack of involvement in their treatment. Patients still smoked or had exposure to second-hand smoke in their home environment.

Many patients failed to attend review appointments and ignored medical advice.

One alarming consequence of the economic recession is that many patients were not taking their preventative medication due to the high cost of prescriptions. Asthma sufferers are not exempt from these charges.

What needs to be done to avoid fatal attacks?

·   All asthma sufferers should recognise when their condition worsens and is out of control. An example of this is that they may need more reliever treatment or feel out of breath more often, especially at night.

·   They should each have Personal Asthma Action Plan drawn up - this is information about their medication, their triggers and what to do in the case of an attack. This should be regularly reviewed by the G.P. or nurse.

We at MyHealthPortal.UK are available to answer your questions relating to Asthma. There is absolutely no justification that in this day and age anyone should die from this long-term condition.