The Blog

Why Asthma Kills

Every year approximately 1400 people die from asthma in the UK, more than the number of deaths from asthma in Austria, Finland, Sweden, Poland and Portugal combined.

Approximately 5.6 million people live with asthma in UK. Asthma symptoms and exacerbations have shown to impact significantly on people's quality of life and activities of daily living affecting sleep and the ability to go to work or school or exercise. Those with more severe disease live with the uncertainty of unplanned emergency visits to their GPs or hospital and for some a fear of death.

Why asthma killshereis the first and largest national enquiry into the circumstances surrounding asthma deaths, published today by the Royal College of Physicians.

So why are people still dying from asthma?

The majority of these deaths are preventable.

As the report highlights there is a degree of complacency about asthma, an illness that can and does kill. There is not enough attention paid to the importance of good asthma care and long term management of the condition by both clinicians and patients.

Generally, the standard of care received was less than satisfactory in a quarter of those who died and there was "room for improvement" in the care received by 83%.

There is clearly lack of education in recognising the symptoms of asthma deterioration, poor asthma control and what to do during an attack.

So what can we, pharmacists, do to improve the quality of care for asthma patients?

If you have asthma and you collect your inhaler from your community pharmacist use the opportunity to check your inhaler technique with your pharmacist. Ask for support and advice on how to manage your condition successfully and how to spot deteriorating symptoms and potential asthma attack. Good asthma care can prevent asthma attacks and save lives.

We know that 19% of those who died were smokers and others, including many children, were exposed to second-hand smoke in the home. If you are a smoker and you have asthma or a member of your family does you should consider stopping smoking. You can ask your pharmacist for help.

Everyone who has asthma should have a written personal asthma action plan. The plan will contain information about your asthma medicines and how to manage your symptoms, how to tell when they're getting worse and what you should do about it. It should include emergency information on what to do if you have an asthma attack. It will also tell you how to reduce your medicines when your symptoms are getting better.

As a hospital pharmacist I do strongly support the recommendation that every hospital and GP practice should have a designated named clinician for asthma services and anyone who has been admitted to hospital or treated for an asthma exacerbation should be followed-up and reviewed as soon as possible. Primary care prescribing systems should generate alerts for people who are collecting too few preventer or too many relievers. Adherence to medicine is a major concern in the management of asthma.

There is a lot that should be done. It's good news that the causes for asthma deaths are preventable in the majority of cases. I believe strongly that by working as a team healthcare professions can help improve the care we provide for patients with asthma significantly.