Hayley Lepps: Number of Scottish adults with asthma on the rise

According to charity Asthma UK, in Scotland 368,000 people are currently receiving treatment for the disease.

Childhood asthma rates have fallen but among adults the rate is rising.

An asthma attack is uncomfortable at best and at worst can cause death. Left untreated, sleep patterns can be seriously affected and it can be difficult for sufferers to exercise.

Is asthma becoming more prevalent than it has been in previous years? The most recent Scottish Health Survey from Scotcen Social Research examined this question in detail. While the proportion of all Scottish adults who have ever been diagnosed with asthma has increased from 13 per cent in 2003 to 17 per cent, we do not see the same pattern for children. Indeed, instead of increasing over the same time period, childhood asthma has actually decreased from 16 to 11 per cent.

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More research must be done to determine the true cause of these changes, for example the relative impact of various factors such as air quality, the smoking ban or even changes in the way doctors diagnose the illness.

The Scotcen study also higlighted that adults were more likely to have asthma than children, with the condition being particularly common among younger adults.

The study found 11 per cent of those aged 15 or under in Scotland had been diagnosed with asthma compared with 17 per cent of adults aged 16 and over. Among adults, levels decline gradually with age. Doctor-diagnosed asthma are highest (22 per cent) among those aged 16-34 and gradually declines to 10 per cent among those aged 75 and above.

Scottish smokers are more likely to report having had asthma diagnosed by their doctor than non-smokers, almost one in five (16 per cent) of those who have never smoked or used to smoke occasionally report having been diagnosed with asthma, rising to 26 per cent among those who currently smoke 20 or more cigarettes per day.

However, when we look at these results by sex we see a very different pattern, with asthma being much more common among heavy smokers who are female than those who are male. Whereas about one in three of all women who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day have been diagnosed with asthma the same is true of only around one in five men who smoke the same amount.

What is clear is that this illness still affects hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. It is therefore an important priority for health policy and, as if we really needed one, is yet another good reason to stop smoking.

Hayley Lepps is a researcher at ScotCen Social Research