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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Asthma patients 'fear fatal attack'
Asthma sufferer
Asthma treatment is not helping a large number of sufferers
Asthma treatments and management are not working for people with severe asthma, a national charity has claimed.

Asthma UK says 500,000 asthmatics are afraid their next attack will kill them, while one in six have regular attacks so severe they cannot speak.

The report calls on the government to make asthma a more serious priority.

It coincides with new asthma guidance from the British Thoracic Society, recommending GPs prescribe steroid inhalers to people with milder asthma.

The report also calls for patients, healthcare professionals and teachers or carers to take the condition more seriously.

According to Asthma UK, more than half of Britain's 5.1m asthmatics suffer severe symptoms.

The group based its findings on a survey of 525 people with serious asthma.

'Fear and isolation'

Results showed 20% of respondents to be seriously concerned that their next attack will kill them.

And 65% said they do not expect NHS asthma management methods will improve.

The report states that for half a million sufferers, there are still no medicines that adequately control their condition, while the other 2.1m suffer as a result of a "shocking failure in asthma management".

In Scotland, where asthma kills about 100 people each year, the charity said more than 40,000 people were living in constant fear of a fatal attack.

Donna Covey, chief executive of Asthma UK, said more than half of all people with asthma are coping from day to day but living in fear and often isolation.

People don't see me or understand when I've cried and wept and punched my fist through the wall gasping for another breath, thinking 'I'm not going to be able to make it this time. I feel like I'm going to die'
Mike Liddel-Taylor, Bury St Edmunds
"Children can lose weeks off school and adults may be unable to work. Their relationships suffer and their family life is disrupted.

"Asthma UK is today calling for asthma to be taken seriously. It is unacceptable that asthma still kills 1,400 people every year.

"The government must do more to ensure that asthma is made a priority."

Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive for the British Lung Foundation, told BBC News Online: "Today's shocking results highlight the poor quality of life for asthma patients.

"Unfortunately, few asthma patients expect an improvement in their condition and get used to living with their symptoms.

"We would urge them to revisit their GP regularly and ask for their case to be reviewed."

Action plan

New asthma guidance from the British Thoracic Society (BTS) urges doctors and nurses to prescribe steroid inhalers in milder cases than previously recommended, in a bid to improve the quality of treatment and care.

I simply had no idea asthma could be that serious, not until the day my daughter died in my arms
Leo Campbell, London
It also encourages healthcare professionals to provide patients with a written Asthma Action Plan, to help them more effectively manage their condition.

Dr Bernard Higgins of BTS said he believes the recommendations will "reduce a worsening in symptoms for patients with mild asthma".

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The government takes asthma very seriously and is taking action on a number of fronts."

The spokesperson said training in self-management skills for people with chronic asthma will be available over the next couple of years.

The department is also due to publish a National Service Framework for people with long-term conditions, and for children, to ensure all children and young people have access to good quality care.

  • An asthma attack card has been produced by Asthma UK to ensure that people know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.

    The card provides basic information on how to recognise an asthma attack and what steps to take.

    People can indicate on the card what their commonest signs of an attack are, as well as add their own contact details and the telephone number of a medical contact.

    To get a free card contact Asthma UK on 020 7704 5888.

    Do you have asthma? What could be done to lessen the impact on your life? Are you fearful of your next attack? Send us your experiences.

    The receptionist looked askance at me and told me to 'calm down' and 'step back'
    Lisa , London
    A couple of years ago, whilst work was being done on my house and I stupidly began trying to clear up serious dust and debris, I had a serious asthma attack. I went to the GP surgery and was in the bad state one of the people in your article describes. Literally, wherever you go, air cannot get into your lungs as the tubes close together. As I gasped for air at the desk, my chest and back in agony with the straining, the receptionist looked askance at me and told me to `calm down` and 'step back' whilst she saw to `the other patients` Having one's style of speech and behaviour totally misinterpreted as `panic` or `anxiety` is just one of the problems.

    I am restricted in my new GP's to just one inhaler at a time when for 10 years in my previous address out of London I was given two at a time. I have had to argue with my new GP's because intially they gave me a cheaper form of salbutomol than the one which works for me - Ventolin. I have now discovered, after practically crawling into the chemist unable to breathe, that in London I can buy an emergency inhaler, provided the chemist is open.
    Lisa , London

    I have no symptoms since learning the Buteyko Institute Method of breathing. I was so amazed that I sold my house to carry out a clinical trial of this method. The results are staggering. I also presented my findings at the British Thoracic Society Winter meeting Dec 2003/ I am amazed that there is no mention of this in the news today. I can give you numerous testimonials from people who are now like me asymptomatic and inhaler and drug free.
    Jill McGowan, Glasgow

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    Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

    The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
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