Things used to be harder for people with asthma than they are now

Photo of man jogging

George, 70 years old

"For a long time it was very difficult for me to live with asthma. I saw it as a burden, and even felt angry about it sometimes. But I've come to terms with it now."

I've had since I was five years old – for 65 years now. We don’t really know what caused it. Maybe it was the conditions when my family had to flee: facing the bitter cold and the I had. My genes may also have played a role, as my mother had too.

When I was a child it sometimes bothered me. I often felt left out, for example when other children went on trips or did sports. In those days, children who had weren’t allowed to join in sports activities and had to be careful not to get out of breath.

During my teenage years it wasn’t much of a problem. I was maybe slightly more susceptible to colds than others, but overall it didn’t play a major role in my life.

I never stopped doing sports even though I have asthma

When I grew older, as a young adult, things got worse again. I often had infections. I did have medication, but it only had a short-term effect. Things used to be harder for people with than they are now. There was no long-term controller medication. I used to take tablets that opened my airways but at the same time made me shiver all over as a side effect. Although I had attacks during this time, there were also long phases during which I felt relatively good.

Then, in 1982, during a stay at a special treatment center for , everything changed: The medical world had changed its mind. I was suddenly told that I should do sports and no longer had to avoid strenuous activities. A year later, I decided to join a running group. Within two years I had run my first marathon.

Then, for a long time, I didn’t have any symptoms. After one of the marathons, though, I came down with a cold that was difficult to get rid of. My symptoms returned and started occurring more frequently. Despite the waves of attacks that came and went, I never stopped doing sports. I still do nowadays, about four to five times a week on average.

I started seeing things differently

Towards the late 1990s, I had further treatment as part of a special program. It was a real turning point for me. On top of the usual treatments, we had training in management. I was shown how to get to know my illness and myself better. I started seeing things differently. For the first time it really became clear to me that was a part of my life and that I had to live with it. For a long time it had been difficult for me to accept. I saw it as a burden, and even felt angry about it sometimes. But I've come to terms with it now.

Self-help organizations have played a crucial role in coping with my illness. I've found talking to others in similar situations particularly helpful. You often have to wait a long time before getting an appointment nowadays, so self-help groups have become even more important. Sharing your experiences and information can help and, to some extent, fill the gaps in health care.

I make sure that I don't have any more asthma attacks

I smoked for about six years, from the age of 18 onwards. I stopped smoking after I was rushed to hospital with serious breathing difficulties. It made me realize that I had to kick the habit.

I know that pollen triggers my – especially tree, grass and rye pollen. But sometimes I don’t know what has caused an attack. Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air and have no idea why. It’s not as if I can’t breathe at all during an attack. I get a strange feeling in my chest area: everything feels really tight. The breathing difficulties are accompanied by a very specific feeling of being unwell. I have an emergency plan for severe attacks. I used to have serious breathing difficulties every now and again but, now that I manage my properly, I don’t let things go that far anymore.

Measuring my peak flow rate is as normal as brushing my teeth

The severity of my has been classified as level three or four. I take medication every day. There were times in the past when I didn’t take it as regularly as I was meant to. Needless to say, I started having attacks again. I can’t afford not to take my medication. The consequences could be fatal for me.

My symptoms tend to flare up in the spring and early summer. During the autumn and winter I generally feel pretty good. I'm very careful about taking my medication properly, even if I feel fine and don’t have any symptoms.

Nowadays I see myself as the manager of my illness. I need a doctor to prescribe the medication for me, of course, but I often adjust the dose myself. I measure my peak flow rate every morning. It’s just part of my daily routine, like brushing my teeth.

I'm a very active person by nature. Thanks to my medication, my doesn't affect my quality of life. The drugs available today are really excellent and I can play an active part in staying well.


Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

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Updated on July 20, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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