New Survey Reveals Lung Disease Affects One in Every Two People

As Ireland’s First-Ever National Lung Health Awareness Week is Launched, New Survey Reveals Lung Disease Affects One in Every Two People, Yet Awareness of Symptoms Remains Low

  • Alliance calls for development of National Programme for Healthy Lungs
  • Ireland has third highest death rate in Western Europe with more than 5,500 people dying from lung disease each year
  • Public urged to have their lung health checked regularly by their doctor
  • Roadshow to offer free lung testing and feature BodyWorks on Tour science exhibition from Glasgow Science Centre

Date of issue: Tuesday, September 16 2014
A new nationwide survey by Ipsos MRBI has revealed that one in every two people (49 per cent) nationwide has experienced lung disease, either personally or through a member of their family. Yet relatively few have had their lungs tested over the past five years (18 per cent) and significant numbers of people were unable to identify the important symptoms of lung disease when asked. The research was conducted on behalf of the Irish Lung Health Alliance, a coalition of 16 leading Irish charities, to mark Ireland’s first-ever National Lung Health Awareness Week. The initiative, which takes place from September 22 to 29, is supported through a grant from GSK. Following on from the survey results, the Alliance has called on the Government to develop a National Programme for Healthy Lungs.

The research coincided with the launch in Dublin today of National Lung Health Awareness Week by the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar TD. The week sees a national roadshow get underway offering free lung testing alongside an exciting science education exhibition to highlight the importance of healthy lungs for life. The interactive health and well-being exhibition – BodyWorks on Tour in partnership with Glasgow Science Centre – will visit Dublin, Cork, Galway and Portlaoise, Ireland’s Healthy Town 2014. For information on the campaign and what people can do to safeguard their lung health, visit

In 2012 alone, more than 5,500 people died of lung diseases in Ireland1. In fact, it is estimated that one in five deaths in Ireland is caused by lung disease2 – more than heart disease3 – and Ireland has the third highest death rate for lung disease in Western Europe4.

Key Research Findings

Amongst the key findings from the research survey were:

• Experience of disease – the incidence of experience of lung disease, either personally or through a member of their family, was reported higher among women (53 per cent versus 44 per cent among the male population) and among young people aged 15 to 24 years (58 per cent)

• Impact – more than half (56 per cent) of those who reported having experienced lung disease, either personally or through a member of their family, described its impact as moderate to severe on their or their family member’s life

• Testing – in the past five years just under one in five (18 per cent) had a lung function test such as spirometry, which can diagnose lung disease. Men were more likely than women to have had the test (24 per cent versus 13 per cent)

• Poor symptom awareness – 57 per cent of those surveyed did not spontaneously identify that a persistent cough is a key symptom of lung disease. More than four in five did not spontaneously identify coughing up of blood (86 per cent), chest tightness/pain (88 per cent) and persistent phlegm (92 per cent), with just under two in five (38 per cent) not identifying shortness of breath/wheeze

Lung disease incorporates asthma, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, sleep apnoea, lung fibrosis, sarcoidosis, alpha one antitrypsin deficiency, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, bronchitis or emphysema. Lung disease is the most common reason to visit a GP and the third most common reason for acute hospital admission5. The week is part of a global initiative to combat lung disease, co-ordinated by the European Respiratory Society and the European Lung Foundation.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, said: “This is an important initiative to promote lung health and I’m pleased to be here to support your work. Lung Health Awareness Week is sending out a clear message about the importance of being aware of lung disease. The Irish Lung Health Alliance is giving useful advice on how to minimise the risk of lung diseases, the importance of early diagnosis, being aware of the symptoms, and having lung function tests. Increasing awareness of lung disease and self-care are closely linked with better clinical outcomes.”

The Simple Spirometry Test That Can Lead to Better Lung Health

The BodyWorks on Tour exhibition taking place in various centres across Ireland offers a really fun, engaging and hands-on opportunity for all of the family to find out about their bodies and, in particular, their lungs, and the science behind lung health. Respiratory physiologists will be on hand to offer free spirometry lung testing to members of the public. Spirometry is the gold standard lung test and is the fastest and most accurate way to measure lung function and screen for potentially fatal diseases. The test is painless and takes just a few minutes. Its importance is underlined by previous research undertaken by the Irish Lung Health Alliance that showed one in seven Irish people had an undiagnosed lung condition6.

Professor Anthony O’Regan, Consultant Respiratory Physician, and spokesperson for the Irish Lung Health Alliance, commented: “We have known for some time that lung disease is a major health problem in Ireland. Indeed, the work of the Government in leading the world in tobacco and air quality control legislation and for setting up specific disease programmes for some lung diseases is to be commended. However, it is also apparent from the results of this research that that there is still substantial work to be done. We need to make much more significant strides in improving lung disease prevention, early diagnosis and improved access to specialist care. The Irish Lung Health Alliance is therefore calling on the Department of Health to lead the development of a new National Programme for Healthy Lungs in Ireland. The aim of this would be to map out a detailed strategy for improving lung health and the resources required, as well as to identify ambitious but achievable targets in improving our population’s lung health.

“Of course, for the public it’s important to emphasise that, in the majority of cases, lung disease is preventable. Unfortunately, there is a poor awareness among people about the importance of having their doctor check for lung disease and, if necessary, organise lung tests such as spirometry. This simple test can identify some common lung diseases even before symptoms appear and can lead to effective treatment. The sooner a problem is treated, the better the results and further irreversible lung damage can be averted. Early action is vital.”

Dublin GAA senior footballer, Dean Rock, who is supporting the campaign, noted: “To be at the top of your game when it comes to playing football at a senior level, you’ve got to be in peak physical condition. But it’s not just important for sport. To be in good shape for life, you’ve got to look after your body. I’d really encourage people to take up the challenge of National Lung Health Awareness Week and take steps to ensure that their lung health is in top condition. Visit the roadshows if you can, ask your doctor to examine your lung health or visit if you want to find out more information. Above all, take action – don’t let this week pass you by without making a commitment to do better for yourself.”

Another campaign supporter, Sharon Lynch from the Ireland Women’s Rugby Team, said: “Lungs are underrated but instead they should be celebrated. Taking a breath of healthy, fresh air is something that we take for granted. Too many people waste their lungs instead of cherishing every invaluable minute of life they give us. We should be challenging our two precious organs to see what they can actually allow us to accomplish.” Fellow teammate, Tania Rosser, added: “I know from personal experience, both among family and friends, of the huge impact that lung disease can have on people’s lives. That’s why it’s so important that we adopt a healthy lifestyle, eat a proper diet and get out and get moving. As a mum of a seven-year-old boy, I think it’s so important that as parents we lead by example and get active, so that our children see it as second nature and no big deal.”
The National Lung Health Awareness Week roadshow will visit the following locations from 11am to 3pm each day (please note in relation to the free spirometry lung testing that pre-registration is advisable at

Dublin – September 22nd, Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2
Cork – September 23rd, Devere Hall, University College Cork, Cork
Galway – September 24th, Aula Maxima, National University of Ireland, Galway
Portlaoise – September 25th, Parish Centre, Portlaoise

This initiative is supported through a grant from GSK