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03 May 2005

1.5 million Europeans fear their asthma will kill them

“Fighting for Breath” - A European patient perspective on severe asthma

World Asthma Day, 3rd May 2005 - New research reported by EFA (the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations) shows that at least 1.5 million Europeans with severe asthma are living in constant fear that suffocating attacks will kill them.

The first study of its kind, “Fighting for Breath”, asked people with severe asthma from across Europe what it means to live with this burden. The most common words connected with asthma were “fear” and “breathlessness”. One in five also experience speech limiting attacks at least once a week meaning they are unable to draw enough breath even to ask for help.

“Yet their suffering is often unnecessary”, says EFA President, Svein-Erik Myrseth. “We know that tragically one person in Western Europe dies every hour as a result of asthma and that 90% of these asthma deaths could be prevented through increased public awareness, better access to appropriate healthcare provision, changes in environmental and healthcare policy and improvements in research.”

According to the study, most people with severe asthma in Europe are failing to receive adequate standards of care to reach recommended international GINA (Global Initiative for Asthma) treatment targets1 and as many as 90% are missing at least one of the five recommended treatment goals. For most of the 6 million Europeans with severe asthma, these goals should be achievable, but for around 1.5 million, there are still not enough effective treatment options to adequately control their symptoms.

Asthma is a chronic condition, which affects 30 million people of all ages in Europe2 - yet its seriousness is often misunderstood and underestimated. Asthma places a considerable burden on healthcare resources – €17.7billion a year in Europe, of which about half is spent on the 20% of people with severe asthma. In addition to this, loss of productivity is estimated at €9.8billion.2

Severe asthma has a substantial impact on the quality of life of sufferers. Attacks can be unpredictable and are normally caused by an allergic reaction to triggers such as tobacco, smoke, pollution and animal fur. Symptoms include “coughing”, “gasping for air”, “wheezing”

and can limit speech, cause regular sleeplessness and lead to sufferers quite literally “Fighting for Breath”. More than half the respondents say they suffer anxiety and stress because of it, and one in four that they feel their condition is “life-threatening.”

“Put a straw in your mouth and breathe through it,” suggests one severe asthma patient, “that’s asthma.”

More than one in three of those European asthma patients questioned say that asthma prevents them going out and socialising with friends; one in five feel it damages their career or their studies; seven in ten say it stops them enjoying sport, dancing, hiking and other physical activities. One respondent claims “you are not free when you have this disease, it’s a prison. ”

Many are embarrassed by their condition, and at the same time feel that their illness is not taken seriously. “People think you are being a nuisance and that you are trying to find an excuse to be off work” is how one Spanish respondent sums up the problem. At work, asthma can be worsened by exposure to dust and fumes from photocopiers. Two in five respondents say they cannot avoid other people’s cigarette smoke, even though this is one of the most common triggers for an asthma attack.

Few are optimistic about the future: more than half expect little improvement in asthma management, and 22% of respondents from Germany think this will actually get worse in the next five years. However, 71% of all those surveyed are hoping that there will be advances in research and medication within this period.

So what do people feel Governments can do? Svein-Erik Myrseth says, “Many feel that if the government could do anything for people with asthma it would be to fund research for new treatments; offer free prescriptions and place a ban on smoking. We also know that people with asthma want better specialist care, greater public awareness and action to reduce pollution; and provide healthier working environments. We demand that the EU and national governments give asthma a higher priority.”

EFA calls upon the European Community to honour its promise of “a high level of health protection” (Article 152 of the European Treaty) for EU citizens by issuing regulations for clean air, indoors and outdoors, including a ban on smoking in all public places, including workplaces. EFA also calls for new guidelines on healthcare accessibility and funding for people with asthma; more funding for research and campaigns to raise public awareness to ensure that people with asthma are able to participate fully in society.

Notes to Editors:

Press release / Survey Fact-sheet / Asthma Backgrounder

The study involved 1,300 people with severe asthma in five European countries: France, Spain, Germany, Sweden and the UK and was conducted by NOP healthcare on behalf of EFA.

The full report of EFA’s findings, Fighting for Breath: A European patient perspective on severe asthma, will be published in September 2005.

The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) is a Brussels-based alliance of 41 patient organisations in 23 countries, and its overall aim is “to improve the quality of life of people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and allergy, and of their carers throughout Europe.”

The study was conducted by EFA and supported by an educational grant from Novartis.


1- GINA guidelines -
2- Global Initiative for Asthma. The Global Burden of Asthma Report 2004
3- European Respiratory Society. The European White Lung Book: The First Comprehensive Survey in Respiratory Health in Europe 2003

EFA wishes to thank the following organisations for their participation and support :

  • UK: Asthma UK
  • France: Association Asthme & Allergies
  • Germany: Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabund e.V. DAAB
  • Spain: Asociación Gallega de Asmaticos y Alérgicos
  • Sweden: Astma- och Allergiförbundet

For further information or to arrange a media interview, please contact:

EFA, Central Office, Avenue Louise 327, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view

Jemima Warrack Sophie Kazan
Chandler Chicco Agency EFA press office
Tel: + 44 (0) 207 318 8308 Tel: +32 (0)2 646 9945
Fax: + 44 (0) 207 318 8349 Fax. +32 (0)2 646 4116
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