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Asthma facts and statistics in the UK

(Author: Daniel Sharpe-Szunko)

Here’ a quick guide for you to see how many people are affected by Asthma in the UK and some background information about the condition.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a very common lung disorder that can cause intermittent breathing problems. The people affected by asthma can be young or older, but it generally first occurs in childhood. It can also develop in later life for adults but this tends to be rarer.

It is known as a chronic lung disorder as there’s currently no known medical cure for asthma. There are a number of treatments for asthma, most commonly people will use inhalers to relieve symptoms.

The cause of asthma is where there is swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes which carry air to the lungs. The tubes then become sensitive and can narrow temporarily which can make them irritated.

Some of the things that can trigger asthma attacks are:

  • Allergies (e.g. Dust mites, animals, or pollen)
  • Smoke, pollution, and colder air
  • Exercise and exertion
  • Cold, flu, and other infections

People with asthma will be told to avoid certain situations to help reduce or control symptoms.

History of Asthma

The first record of respiratory distress, categorised as “noisy breathing” was in China in 2600 BC. The Babylonians (Code of Hammurabi) then wrote records of breathlessness symptoms “if a man’s lungs pant with his work.” (1792-1750 BC).

Hippocrates (known as ‘the father of medicine’) was the first person on record to use the term ‘Asthma’. The word asthma comes from the Greek term for ‘wind’ or ‘to blow’ which is for respiratory distress and panting.

In more modern times, medicines to treat asthma in the 1940s and 1950s were adrenaline injections and even suppositories. In 1969 the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group & Research was founded. Since then, there have been various medical advances that include inhaled corticosteroids that target underlying inflammation.

What are the different types of Asthma?

There are several main types of asthma that can be identified usually by an allergist. The type of asthma you have will also have an effect on which type of treatment you receive.

  • Adult-onset asthma is as the name suggests, where someone in later life will develop the condition. This is thought to be caused by lifestyle or environment or can be where symptoms have remained dormant for many years
  • Allergic asthma is generally caused by allergens like pollen, animal fur or dust particles. It’s not necessarily that people with asthma have allergies and not everyone with asthma has allergies
  • Asthma COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS) is where someone has both respiratory conditions. A person with ACOS will be treated for both conditions individually
  • Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB)affects a surprisingly large number of athletes. This type of asthma is induced by rigorous exercise and can often be managed with medication
  • Non-allergenic asthma is often caused by external factors which can include medications, other illness, or environmental influences
  • Occupational asthma which is simply where a job has caused the development of asthma, common in construction for example

What are the symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma is a blockage of the airways and causes difficulty breathing which is the same for adults and children. There are common symptoms which are:

  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing fits
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing when breathing

These symptoms are normal in most people but will be suspected to be asthma if they’re persistent, frequent or occur in response to certain triggers.

What is an Asthma attack?

There may be periods where asthma symptoms are more severe or acute which are commonly known as ‘attacks’. These attacks can develop quickly or can build up gradually over a period of several days.

Severe asthma attacks can include signs such as:

  • Blue fingers and lips
  • Breathing quickly and erratically
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling faint or fainting
  • Tiredness, disorientation, and even complete exhaustion
  • Severe coughing fits and tight chest

What to do if you have an Asthma attack?

Someone who’s having an asthma attack or experiencing symptoms should follow several simple steps:

  • Sit up and breathe slowly while remaining as calm as possible (don’t lie down)
  • Inhalers (blue) are to reduce or prevent symptoms from getting worse so take 1 puff every 30 to 60 seconds
  • Call an ambulance(dial 999) if symptoms remain and do not ease after 10 puffs on your inhaler

Asthma statistics (UK)

The following asthma statistics were provided by Asthma UK which is the UK’s leading charities:

  • Approximately 5.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with asthma (1.1 million children and 4.3 million adults)
  • Someone will suffer a potentially fatal asthma attack every 10 seconds in the UK
  • 3 people die from asthma attacks every day in the UK
  • Roughly 200,000 people suffer from severe asthma which causes more debilitating symptoms. Generally people with severe asthma will require hospital treatment because normal treatments will not be enough
  • £1 billion is spent each year by the NHS treating and caring for people with asthma
  • 77,124 hospital admissions due to asthma in 2016/2017
  • 1,484 people died due to an asthma attack in 2017

Why do I need specific travel insurance for asthma?

It’s fair to say that asthma is very common and can be extremely mild with very little or no difference to lifestyle. You should still make sure that you disclose asthma when applying for travel insurance so it’s taken into consideration.

Most travel insurance policies will include a certain limited level of medical cover for expenses. A travel insurance policy for someone with asthma will also make sure that you’re covered for any asthma-related treatment whilst on holiday. Asthma is classed as a pre-existing medical condition for travel insurance and you will be asked about it when you apply.

Does asthma affect travel insurance premiums?

Most policies where asthma is disclosed will take in to account the additional potential medical requirements whilst traveling. The level of impact on the cost of cover will depend on how severe, recent, and frequent your symptoms are.

There are a number of other factors that will have an impact on costs, such as destination, length of stay, and type of cover. You can shop around to find the right cover and often a more specialist company would be better suited because they are more equipped to help.

Asthma awareness events

World Asthma Day is usually at the beginning of May every year and used as a global event to join people together to help raise awareness. The event is supported mainly by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) and the National Heart and Blood Institute (NHLB) in America

Asthma Awareness Week is a national event in the UK that is to help raise awareness for children and young adults. The event is held in September by Children & Young People’s Health Partnership which is a major UK charity

Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month is held in May in America by the charity Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)

Asthma charities and support (UK)

Asthma UK
Helpline: 0300 222 5800
Address: 18 Mansell Street, London, E1 8AA

Asthma Relief Charity
Helpline: 01793 524004
Address: Suite 1A, The Shaftsbury Centre, Percy Street, Swindon, SN2 2AZ

British Lung Foundation
Helpline: 03000 030 555
Address: 18 Mansell Street, London, E1 8AA

NHS Choices (Asthma)
Emergency: Dial 111


Asthma UK


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