Press Release: Majority are clueless about asthma attacks

New data highlights that almost three quarters of people would not know what to do if someone were to have a potentially life threatening asthma attack.

New data1 released today by the charity Asthma UK highlights that almost three quarters of people (73%) would not know what to do if someone were to have a potentially life threatening asthma attack2. 

Someone in the UK has an asthma attack every 10 seconds, yet many people wouldn’t know how to help someone if they were struggling to breathe. The charity is particularly concerned that one in every 11 people (9% of respondents) don’t think that asthma attacks can kill. Three children in every classroom have asthma, making it the most common long term condition in childhood, so Asthma UK urges parents to understand how serious asthma can be and what to do to help a child having an asthma attack.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says: “These results demonstrate that asthma as a condition is not being taken seriously enough. The Royal College of Physicians’ themselves highlighted that ‘complacency in asthma care must end’ in the National Review of Asthma Deaths, 2014. What people don’t realise is that much like a heart attack, an asthma attack is a medical emergency. Asthma attacks can and do kill. It’s essential that people know how to manage their asthma to avoid attacks, we mustn’t be complacent. Tragically two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable with good basic care.”

Dr Walker adds: “One of saddest things I’ve heard was from a mother whose son died following an asthma attack who told me ‘I never knew that asthma could kill. I just wish someone had told me.’That’s why it is so important that people with asthma manage their condition well and avoid having an asthma attack in the first place. People who use a written asthma action plan are four times less likely to be hospitalised because of an asthma attack and you can download one from our website Despite this only 35% of people with asthma have one. Everyone must take asthma seriously.”


Breakdowns of this data for Scotland, Wales, and Regions of England are also available. An asthma attack advice infographic of the steps to take, and a 40 second video file (advice from Asthma UK nurse) and 10 second b-roll footage are all available upon request. For more information please contact the Asthma UK media team on, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).  

Asthma Attack Advice

The following advice applies to the vast majority of both adults and children who have an asthma attack3:

  • Sit up straight - don't lie down. Try to keep calm.
  • Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  • If you feel worse at any point while you're using your inhaler or you don't feel better after 10 puffs or you're worried at any time, call 999 for an ambulance.
  • If the ambulance is taking longer than 15 minutes you can repeat step two (above).


  1. 3,000 people were surveyed by Gorkana Surveys between Monday 18 and Wednesday 20 April 2016.
  2. When asked ‘do you know what to do if someone were to have an asthma attack?’ 34% answered ‘no’ and 27% answered ‘not sure’. Of the people who said ‘yes’ just over half (52%) selected the wrong actions when presented with a list of options. Of the people who said ‘not sure’ 38% selected the correct actions. This works out as 73% of respondents in total.
  3. This asthma attack information is not designed for people on a SMART or MART regime. Those on a SMART or MART regime should speak to their GP or asthma nurse to get their personalised set of asthma attack instructions.

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

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 one of the highest prevalence rates for asthma in Europe, according to the ERS Whitebook.

The UK has some of the highest asthma death rates in Western Europe according to the Death rates (all ages) for OECD nations and the World Health Organisation.

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 thirdsof asthma deaths are preventable with good, basic care.

7 out of 10 people with asthma do not receive care that meets the most basic clinical standards.


National data

English Regions