Asthma UK warns almost a million children with asthma triggered by pollen are at risk of dropping a grade at exam time

As we approach exam season Asthma UK is urging parents and students to take preventative steps to ensure their asthma doesn't hinder their exam success as research shows that having a diagnosis of asthma means they are 30% more likely to drop a grade between mock and final exams1.

More than 1 million children have asthma in the UK around 2 in every classroom and four in every five2 people with asthma also have hayfever, putting them at increased risk of a potentially fatal attack. Research shows that there are peaks in hospital admissions for asthma one to three days after high pollen levels have been recorded, typically in the summer months, during exam season3.

Research also shows that children who experience hayfever symptoms while taking their GCSE exams are 40% more likely to drop a grade between their mocks and final exams. This figure rises to 70% if taking antihistamines with sedative effects1. Asthma attacks rarely appear out of the blue, but far too often people with asthma do not recognise the warning signs of an asthma attack4, especially when the symptoms of asthma and hayfever are so similar, and both triggered by pollen.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK and who conducted the research, says: "It might seem early to be talking about exams and pollen but now is the time to take action as the pollen season starts as early as January. Asthma and hayfever are not trivial conditions, particularly when some people have both; research shows that pollen can trigger potentially life-threatening asthma attacks and it can affect school performance so much so that it can damage your future career prospects. By getting a head start now you should be able to stop symptoms in their tracks, before they appear."

Asthma UK's Top Pollen Prevention Tips

  • Make an appointment with your GP or nurse now because they can check that you are on the right treatment, that you are taking the right dose, and whether or not you also need other prescription hayfever medicines.
  • Don't wait for your hayfever symptoms to start; you can start taking nasal steroid sprays now, before the peak of the pollen season, adding in non-drowsy antihistamines when symptoms are troublesome.some.
  • The best way to build resilience to any asthma trigger, including pollen, is to take your preventer inhaler daily, as prescribed by your GP or asthma nurse. This medicine helps to stop asthma attacks so needs to be taken every day to have an effect.
  • It's also vital you carry your reliever inhaler on you so that if you do have an attack you can treat it immediately.
  • Know the signs that your asthma is getting worse and what to do about it, by filling in or updating your written asthma action plan. You can download one here.

The pollen count is highest early in the morning (and at dusk) so Asthma UK is urging schools to be mindful of this in relation to the timing of exams first thing, and to ensure students who do have hayfever and/or asthma are seated away from open windows, and are allowed to carry their reliever inhaler on them or have easy access to one. One in every 12 children has asthma in the UK and schools have a duty of care under the Children and Families Act 2014 to support children with medical conditions. In addition, since the 1 October 2014, schools have also been allowed to keep an emergency spare inhaler in their first aid kit.

There is more information about how to prevent asthma and hayfever affecting exam performance on our website. You can also get confidential information, advice and support about asthma by calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800.


For more information, contact the Asthma UK media team on 020 7786 4949 or For out of hours enquiries, call 07951 721393.

Notes to editors


  1. Study conducted by Education for Health in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London, Walker S, Khan-Wasti S, Fletcher M, Cullinan P, Harris J, Sheikh A. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007. This figure rises to 70% if they are taking a sedating anti-histamine treatment (which can cause drowsiness)
  2. Up to 80% of people with allergic asthma hahave symptoms of rhinitis. (Bousquet et al., 2003; Leynaert et al. 2004; Linneberg et al., 2002)
  3.  Short term effects of airborne pollen concentrations on asthma epidemic - A Tobias, I Galan, J Banegas, and E Aranguez.
  4. Someone is having a potentially fatal asthma attack every 10 seconds across the UK and every second counts when you're having an attack. Asthma attacks rarely appear out of the blue, but far too often people with asthma do not recognise the warning signs of an asthma attack. So far in March 2015, more than three quarters (78%) of the callers to the Asthma UK Helpline have been from people who didn't recognise they are actually experiencing the warning signs of a potentially fatal asthma attack. Tragically three people die every day because of asthma attacks, and research shows that two of these deaths are preventable.

Your asthma is getting worse if:

  • Your reliever inhaler isn't helping or not lasting more than four hours.
  • You notice any symptoms coming back (wheeze, tightness in chest, feeling breathless, cough).
  • You're waking up at night.
  • Symptoms are interfering with your usual day-to-day activities (for example at work, or exercising).
  • You're using your reliever inhaler more than normal.
  • Your peak flow drops.

About Asthma UK

Asthma UKs mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.

Asthma UK is solely funded by public donations

The Asthma UK Helpline is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800.

Background information on asthma

In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).

The UK has amongst the highest prevalence rates for asthma in Europe, according to the European Community Respiratory Health Survey.

The UK still has some of the highest asthma death rates in Europe. According to the Death rates (all ages) for OECD nations the UK rate for 2010 was 1.6 per 100,000 of population, thethird highest in Europe after Estonia (3.1) and Spain (1.8)

Three people die every day because of asthma; based on mortality data from Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England & Wales, General Register Office for Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (Northern Ireland). 1255 people died from asthma in 2013 divided by 365, this works out as 3.4 people per day.

Tragically, the National Review of Asthma Deaths found that two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable with good, basic care.

8 out of 10 people with asthma do not receive care that meets the most basic clinical standards. Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research (AUKCAR) is conducting further research on regional disparities in asthma care.