Asthma epidemic suddenly recedes

THE ASTHMA epidemic which has swept Britain for the last 20 years, condemning millions to a life of wheezing, appears to be in decline.

After two decades in which the number of adult sufferers has trebled and the number of children affected has risen five-fold, latest figures show a sharp fall in asthma attacks.

Between 1993 (the peak year for asthma) and 1997, the number of patients consulting GPs with acute attacks fell by 25 per cent to the lowest level for 10 years. The trend is clear for all age groups, from the under-fives to the over-65s.

The figures contained in the annual report of the Royal College of General Practitioners' research monitoring unit in Birmingham were collected through weekly returns from 90 practices around the country. The unit is best known for its work monitoring winter outbreaks of 'flu. Its asthma research is less well known.

Despite this, Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the unit which is funded by the Health Department, said a paper he had submitted on the fall in asthma attacks to The Lancet medical journal had been rejected on the grounds that the information was "not new".

The unit monitored attacks of asthma (which fell from over 60 episodes per 100,000 patients at the 1993 peak to under 50 episodes last year), not the number of patients, so its findings should be treated with caution, Dr Fleming said. But he added: "I do believe the total problem of asthma has declined."

Asthma attacks rose in the early 1990s when new devices and drugs were introduced, and had started falling only after 1993. A possible reason was that asthma was following the natural course of diseases. "All diseases have an innate variability. If you go through history there is scarcely an illness that hasn't had periods of rising and falling," said Dr Fleming. "If there were a nice neat germ that caused asthma, you would say it was due to changing virulence, but there isn't."

The causes of asthma and its extraordinary worldwide rise between the 1970s and the early 1990s remain a mystery. Possible causes include lifestyle changes, like central heating and wall-to-wall carpets (which provide the perfect home for house dust mites), maternal smoking, vaccinations and the use of antibiotics.

The National Asthma Campaign said it was unaware of the falling trend. Dr Martyn Partridge, expert adviser to the charity and consultant chest physician at Whipps Cross Hospital, London, said: "The prevalence of the condition is undoubtedly increasing, but we are getting better at treating it, so the suffering is declining."

He said the apparent fall could reflect greater caution among GPs about diagnosing asthma in very young children and greater involvement of nurses in treating it.

Dr Partridge added: "At the National Asthma Campaign we have stuck very strictly to the science. If there is evidence that it is getting better, we would be very interested in seeing that data. But I think there needs to be a little caution in interpreting it."

The NHS Breast Screening programme is on target to save 1,250 lives a year, according to Julietta Patnick, the national co-ordinator of the programme.

Around 1.25 million women were screened last year, and 3,156 cancers smaller than 15mm were detected - an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year. The programme also detected 1,431 cancers which had not spread beyond the breast ducts - an increase of 7 per cent. The screening service, which costs pounds 37m a year in England and Wales, was now doing as well as the Swedish trial it was based on, which had seen mortality cut by 40 per cent. "We are getting the same levels of cancer reduction and we should see a similar reduction in mortality in a few years' time," Ms Patnick said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect