Severe asthma, a debilitating illness on a daily basis and poorly understood by the general public


An Ifop study carried out for Sanofi and conducted on more than 3,000 French people reveals that severe asthma remains poorly understood by the general public and still too underestimated by the patients themselves.

With over 339 million people affected worldwide, asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases. In France, it affects 3.5 million people. Of these patients, approximately 65,000 suffer from severe asthma. This form of illness proves to be extremely disabling on a daily basis, as shown by an Ifop survey commissioned by Sanofi Genzyme.

Investigation interviewed 3045 individuals including people not affected by asthma as well as asthmatics and patients withsevere asthma. According to the study, 93% of French people know about asthma but half consider it to be “of a disease with which one can live without too many problems“However, asthma is still responsible for nearly 1000 deaths per year in France.

82% of severe asthmatics find it difficult to breathe

For Chantal Harnois, retired nurse and president of theAssociation of severe asthmatics (launched in 2018), these figures are unfortunately not surprising. “Asthma is frequently confused with severe asthma. This form is too often trivialized“, she explains.

The French also do not seem to measure the extent of physical and psychological impact that severe asthma can cause in affected patients. The disease is characterized by regular attacks that can occur day and night.

Seizure syndromes vary widely from patient to patient and it usually takes between 6 months and a year to make a diagnosis, usually based on a breath test and examination of the patient’s symptoms.

According to the survey, 82% of severe asthmatics find it difficult to breathe, 70% suffer from night awakenings while 59% prefer to avoid any situation requiring physical effort (shopping, climbing stairs). At the question “How would you describe your illness on a daily basis?“, 55% of patients surveyed mentioned the ascent of a mountain pass.

From one day to the next, we do not know how we will feel, which makes it difficult to plan a party with friends or to go on weekends. When I was working, I sometimes had to isolate myself because I was having a crisis, then to pretend that everything was fine“, says Chantal Harnois, herself a severe asthmatic.

Support by a specialist is essential

If they are not treated or are too intense, these crises can lead to emergency room visits or even hospitalization. For severe asthmatics, going to the attending doctor regularly is not enough: they must imperatively follow a treatment prescribed by a pulmonologist.Good adherence to treatment is essential to limit the daily impact of the disease“, underlines Pr Alain Didier, professor of pulmonology at the Toulouse University Hospital.

And this is precisely where the shoe pinches.

According to the survey, while 84% of severe asthmatics are followed by a general practitioner, only 38% are currently followed by a hospital pulmonologist.

When I launched my association, I realized that many severe asthmatics were only followed by their general practitioner, without being redirected to specialists“, laments Chantal Harnois.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help

In addition to the treatment prescribed by the attending physician and the pulmonologist, certain severe asthmatics resort to alternative methods such as acupuncture (32%) and herbal medicine (24%). “The acupuncture sessions help me to strengthen my immune defenses, to contract fewer bronchitis in winter and therefore to have fewer asthma attacks. But I am aware that these are therapeutic approaches complementary and that they cannot in any case replace my treatment,“says Chantal Harnois.

To deconstruct misconceptions and support patients isolated by the disease, the Association of Severe Asthmatics, the Gregory Pariente Foundation and Sanofi launched the #AsthmeSevere campaign on social media, symbolized by the message: “Asthma is a burden“.

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