People with asthma delaying seeking emergency treatment for potentially life threatening asthma attacks as winter flu peak bites

A snap poll by Asthma UK reveals that 7 out of 10 (71%) respondents have had a potentially life threatening asthma attack in the past 4 weeks which may have required hospital treatment. Yet disturbingly, over half (57%) thought twice about going to A&E despite knowing they needed specialist treatment [1].

The most recent data from Public Health England [2] already shows that hospitalisations for flu are almost 6 times higher now than they were this time last year. In 2014 the peak in flu admissions was in early February [2] yet by late December the numbers were already significantly higher, several weeks earlier than in 2013/2014.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, says: "Nobody having an asthma attack who needs emergency treatment should be anxious about going to A&E. According to the National Review of Asthma Deaths [5], 45% of those who died from an asthma attack did so without seeking medical assistance or before emergency medical care could be provided. Tragically three people die every day because of asthma attacks, and two of these deaths are preventable, so it's absolutely crucial people with asthma seek medical assistance for asthma attacks and that their condition is taken seriously."

Someone is having a potentially fatal asthma attack every 10 seconds across the UK and every second counts when you're having an asthma attack. Asthma attacks rarely appear out of the blue, but far too often people with asthma do not recognise the warning signs of a serious asthma attack.

Ms Boycott adds: "The warning signs of an asthma attack can start to come on two to three days beforehand [4], and so can still potentially be prevented. If anyone with asthma finds their symptoms are changing or they are wheezing, waking at night, coughing or need to use their reliever inhaler more than usual this is a wake-up call that they could be at risk of an imminent and potentially life threatening asthma attack. If the warning signs are there they must make an appointment to see their GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible, especially if they have a cold or the flu. GP's and practice nurses can keep people out of hospital by checking they are on the right medicines and taking them correctly.

"It is critical that asthma attacks are managed properly in the next few weeks with these peaks in flu cases. In some areas were hearing of emergency asthma admissions soaring [3] and people with asthma have told us they've waited for hours to be seen in A&E. Some have even been forced to wait in ambulance queues, relying on their own medicines as stocks were not available, then at hospital being forced to share basic medical equipment like oxygen canisters with several other patients."

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.

Anyone who is concerned about their asthma can discuss their symptoms with a specialist asthma nurse on the Asthma UK Helpline, 0300 222 5800, open Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm. More information about how to manage your asthma and when to seek emergency treatment can be found at www.asthma.org.uk If you are admitted to hospital, make sure you book a follow up appointment with your GP or asthma nurse within two days.

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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 in 11 people have asthma in the UK and 90% of people with asthma find that colds and flu make their asthma worse.

1. Asthma UK surveyed 270 people online between 12 and 14 January 2015. Key outcomes include:

  • 87% of respondents said their asthma had been worse in the past 4 weeks
  • 90% have had to use their inhaler more in the past 4 weeks
  • 71% had an attack in the past 4 weeks
  • 57% thought twice about going to AE, despite needing to go

2. Public Health England statistics - Weekly Flu Reports

3. Southampton General have seen emergency asthma and respiratory admissions double from 25-30 a day to 50 a day

4. Exacerbations of Asthma - A Descriptive Study of 425 Severe Exacerbations

5. Why Asthma Still Kills - The National Review of Asthma Deaths

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