29 Nov 2023

Today, the Asthma Society of Ireland is marking its 50th year by bringing together champions of asthma care to reflect on the important contributions the organisation has made to Ireland, and to accelerate much-needed action on asthma. Despite having the fourth highest rates of asthma in the world – over 400,000 people living in Ireland have it – the disease is widely misunderstood.

CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland Eilís Ní Chaithnía said,

“Too often asthma is thought of as “a bit of a wheeze”, something a child will develop and then grow out of. Asthma can hit at any time in our lives and symptoms can come and go. Not taking the disease seriously can – and does – result in fatalities. The rate of asthma deaths in Ireland has actually increased over the past two years. But, with the right care, information and supports, people with asthma have the potential not just to survive, but to rise to sports stardom like rugby legend Ronan O’Gara.

Today, I am urging key actors from across Irish society – the government, the HSE, the pharmaceutical industry, schools, employers and sports organisations – to join the Asthma Society in our renewed drive to make sure our family members, friends and colleagues with asthma stay well and thrive.”

Ms. Ní Chaithnía continued,

“The Asthma Society has been at the heart of asthma care in Ireland for 50 years. In the past 10 years alone, our expert nurses have made 28,500 calls to people with asthma who needed support in managing their disease.

We have been instrumental in advancing research; advocating for better asthma care; educating teachers, clinicians and families; and leading the fight for cleaner air. At the centre of everything we do is a vision of an Ireland where fewer people have asthma, and everyone with asthma can live full, healthy lives on a healthy planet, with access to the best possible care.”

Moderated by broadcaster Matt Cooper, the event will feature a virtual address from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, TD, and conversations with people living well with asthma, including La Rochelle Rugby Coach Ronan O’Gara. They will share their personal experiences of managing their asthma and thriving in their lives.

Keynote speaker and rugby legend Ronan O’Gara, said,

“Growing up with asthma could be very hard at times. Struggling to breathe is frightening. But I have always loved sport and I didn’t want anything to restrict me from taking part. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have the support of experts who helped me understand and manage my asthma. I knew what my medications did and when to take them. Having those supports has allowed me to forge a career in sports that I am very proud of. The Asthma Society has been delivering free expert advice for half a century and continues to lead the way in demanding excellence in asthma care.”

Leading respiratory experts Professors Marcus Butler and Patrick Mitchell will reflect briefly on how treatment of asthma has evolved over the past 50 years, before discussing the major challenges and opportunities facing people with asthma and, indeed, Irish society.

Speaking of advances in asthma medications, Professor Marcus Butler, Consultant Respiratory Physician at St Vincent's Hospital and Medical Director of the Asthma Society, said,

“In the 1980s, it would have been standard practice to prescribe just a reliever (blue) inhaler to tackle asthma symptoms. Research now shows that overreliance on reliever inhalers can be extremely dangerous as they temporarily open the airways but don’t treat the underlying inflammation in the lungs.  The newer combination inhalers, however, contain two types of medication that open the airways and treat the inflammation, reducing the risk of asthma attacks. If these were made available for free, we would see fewer visits to emergency departments, fewer hospital admissions and fewer deaths.”

Professor Patrick Mitchell, Consultant Respiratory Physician in Tallaght University Hospital, added,

“High-tech biologics are more available than ever in Ireland and are being used to transform the lives of people with severe asthma. The full potential for using biologics in asthma care is in its early stages in Ireland, and I’m pleased to join the Asthma Society in leading public conversations on innovation, including how biologics might be used in the future to achieve remission in asthma patients.”

Asthma Ambassador Michael McDonagh who has severe asthma says,

“I spend my life dealing with the challenges of Asthma.  Having had multiple ICU admissions, numerous medical interventions and even being anointed on one occasion I have moved to a place where I was able to complete my fifth Dublin City Marathon this October. I have belief in my abilities and I am living a full life for my young family and myself.  What has made the difference? Proactively managing my asthma, looking after myself through diet and exercise, and working collaboratively with a great team of healthcare professionals. Support is out there and I am in control, not my asthma. It will not hold me back from achieving what I want to do - I don’t let Asthma define me.”

Ms Ní Chaithnía finished by saying,

“I am very grateful to all those who have led the Society’s work over the organisation’s history and sought a healthier future for people with asthma and their loved ones. To guarantee that future, I am keenly aware that the Society must continue to lead the way in protecting our environment. Air pollution, extreme weather conditions and increased levels of dust, moisture, pollen and fungal spores all represent real and immediate risks to people with asthma. They are also impacting prevalence rates.”

The Society’s Planting Change campaign, which is officially launched at the event today, allows supporters who care about climate change and sustainability, to give the gift of a tree or sponsor a team-building tree-planting day in support of our work. For more information about the Asthma Society, and to support our Planting Change campaign, visit