Is it a birch? Is it a plane? No, it's asthma!

New research from the charity Asthma UK shows that people confuse the symptoms of asthma and hay fever which means they may fail to manage either condition, putting themselves at increased risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack. The charity is urging people with asthma to be aware that increases in asthma symptoms, as well as the classic hay fever symptoms of sneezing, itching and runny nose on exposure to pollens (including birch, plane and grass), need to be taken seriously.

The survey conducted by Asthma UK1, highlights that people with asthma often confuse their symptoms with those of hay fever; when asked to identify a list of hay fever symptoms from a list containing both hay fever and asthma symptoms more than half of respondents selected asthma symptoms instead2; 59% thought that one of the key indicators that your asthma is getting worse and an attack could be imminent (shortness of breath) was in fact a hay fever symptom.

Around 80% of people with asthma also have hay fever which can put them at increased risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack. The results are particularly worrying because it shows that potentially millions of people could be missing the warning signs of an imminent attack. Even celebrities including Lady Gaga3 and Katy Perry4 have confessed a passion for gardening so with the Chelsea flower show the perfect example of the UK's love affair with this fantastic hobby5, Asthma UK is warning people with asthma going to the show, as well as those being inspired to enjoy their own gardens, to wake up to the warning signs.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says: "Certain pollens have already been high this year, particularly birch, and as we head into the grass pollen season now is the time to get on top of your asthma and your hay fever. If you have asthma your airways are more sensitive, inflamed and irritable and therefore more likely to react to triggers such as pollen if you have a pollen allergy, which many people with asthma have. By taking your preventer medication as prescribed you reduce that underlying level of inflammation and irritability so your airways are less likely to react when you come into contact with your triggers."

Asthma UK's Top Hay Fever Management and 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 hay fever medicines.
  • Don't wait for your hay fever symptoms to take over your life; start taking nasal steroid sprays early, adding in non-drowsy anti-histamines when symptoms are troublesome.
  • 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 from www.asthma.org.uk

Dr Walker continues: "Gardening can be a wonderful hobby but we know that some people find that allergens in gardens trigger their asthma symptoms. It's impossible to avoid all asthma triggers but if you are taking the right medicines at the right dose and also taking antihistamines and using a steroid nasal spray then you should be able to minimise the effects. It can also help to do your gardening during the middle of the day as pollen counts are often highest at ground level in the early morning and early evening.

"The most important thing to remember is that if you are on top of your asthma then you should be able to manage day-to-day without any asthma symptoms. If you are wheezing, coughing, waking at night or feel tightness in your chest you need to speak to your GP or asthma nurse today to review your medicines and make sure you are taking them correctly to reduce your risk of a potentially fatal attack."

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

Notes to editors:

1. Survey monkey poll www.surveymonkey.com/r/9CY7Z28, data collected during April and May 2015, 1015 respondents - answers analysed on Friday 15 May 2015.

2. Respondents were asked to identify from a randomised list of both asthma and hay fever symptoms which ones they associate just with hay fever (results as follows):

Asthma symptoms
Shortness of breath: 59%
Tight Chest: 52%
Coughing at night: 45%
Wheezing: 52%
Cough: 51%

Hay fever symptoms
Frequent sneezing: 81%
Runny/blocked nose: 83%
Itchy, red, or watery eyes: 86%
Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears: 70%

3. Lady Gaga's Gardening

4. Katy Perry reveals she has a passion for gardening and says growing her own food is "fulfilling"

About Asthma UK

  • Asthma UK's 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.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk

Background information on asthma