What is Asthma?


Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes recurrent breathing problems and symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing.[1] In the most extreme cases, the airways can become so inflamed and restricted that people are left ‘fighting for breath.’ Asthma impacts on people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, but often starts in childhood. About half of all people with asthma have experienced an asthma attack prior to the age of 10.[2]

For around 90% of people with asthma, allergies are a contributing cause. These allergens include domestic dust mites (bedding, carpets, etc.), pets with fur, pollens, moulds and more. Tobacco smoke and exposure to chemical irritants in the workplace are also considered risk factors.[3] Asthma often runs in the family but other factors can also add to the likelihood of someone developing asthma, such as smoking during pregnancy.

Patients with severe asthma have a specific problem because they are less responsive to standard asthma therapy. Severe asthma has a serious impact upon the lives of those with the condition. It can include debilitating breathlessness, attacks limiting the ability to speak, and fear of death from their next attack. A survey of asthma in seven Western European countries found that on average 18% of people with asthma had severe persistent disease.


Learn to Live with Asthma


EFA has released a full-length DVD for asthma patients called “Learning to Live with Asthma”, which tackles several different questions to help inform asthma patients. These questions include the following:
-Do you have enough support?
-What is it like living with asthma at home?
-How can you best cope with asthma at work?
-What are the issues when traveling with asthma?
-How can you enjoy sports with asthma?
-How do you cope with asthma when under pressure?
-How does being pregnant affect asthma?


What is asthma’s impact upon Europe?


According to the WHO 235 million people worldwide have asthma.[4] Around 30 million people in Europe have asthma and as many as 6 million of these people suffer severe symptoms.[5] The total cost of asthma in Europe is 17.7 billion EUR per year, and productivity lost to patients’ poor control of their asthma is estimated at 9.8 billion EUR per year.[6] Asthma and allergy are the most common chronic diseases in children and the leading cause of school absences, emergency department visits and hospitalisations. The whole family is affected. The Polish Presidency of the Council of the EU underlined this problem in its conclusions on “Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic respiratory diseases in children” (unanimously adopted by the EU Ministers of Health in December 2011).[7]

The existing links between asthma and allergy should not be taken lightly, as up to 80% of people with asthma have respiratory allergy and families with allergies may suffer from several: food allergy, atopic eczema, respiratory allergy and other types of hypersensitivities.[8] The example of the Finnish asthma and allergy programmes are best practices which can also serve as a models for other disease areas. Thanks to the Finnish asthma programme (1994-2004), the number of patients’ hospital days fell by 54% and the costs per patient per year decreased by 36%, from 1,611 EUR in 1993 to 1,031 EUR in 2003, while demonstrating a cost-effective reduction of deaths (80%), hospitalisations (85%) and pension disabilities (60%).


Asthma and patient groups in your own language:


Ελλάδα -Áνοιξη
Belgique/België – Astma-en Allergiekoepel vzw
България – България – Асоциация на Българите Боледуващи от Астма
Česká republika – České iniciativy pro astma o.p.s. (ČIPA)
Danmark – Patientenliga Atemwegserkrankuungen e.V.
España – Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Enfermedades Respiratorias (FENAER)
France – Association Asthme & Allergies, AFPRAL
Ireland/Éire – Asthma Society of Ireland
Associazione Italiana Pazienti FEDERASMA
Lietuva – Asociacija alerginių vaikų klubai
Nederland – Astmafonds
Norge – Norges Astma- og Allergiforbund (NAAF)
Österreich – Österreichische Lungenunion
Polska – Polska Federacja Stowarzyszeń Chorych na Astmę, Allergię i POChP
Suomi – Allergia- ja Astmaliitto, Hengitysliitto Heli
Slovenije Društvo pljučnih in alergijskih bolnikov Slovenije
SvenskaAstma och Allergi Förbundet
Suisse/Schweizaha! Allergiezentrum Schweiz/Centre d’Allergie Suisse
United Kingdom – Asthma UK


[1] GINA initiative for Asthma, Pocket Guide for Asthma Managemetn and Prevention [2] Global Initiative for Asthma. The Global Burden of Asthma Report 2004 [3] J. Ayres et al. Efficacy and tolerability of anti-immunoglobulin E therapy with omalizumab in patients with poorly controlled (moderate-to-severe) allergic asthma. Allergy 2004: 59: 701-708. [4] Data available at: [5] European Respiratory Society (ERS) in conjunction with the European Lung Foundation (ELF), European Lung White Book, November 2003. [6] ERS in conjunction with ELF, op. cit., note 5. [7] Available at: [8] Erkka Valovirta, op. cit., note 6.

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