Asthma is a major public health problem, with variable trends in several countries. We analysed mortality trends from asthma in Italy and Spain between 1980 and 1996. Overall asthma-related mortality at all ages increased between 1980 and 1987 in both sexes in Italy, from 16.6 in 1980-1981 to 29.0 in 1986-1987 per million males, and from 8.0 in 1980-1981 to 13.8 in 1986-1987 per million females, but decreased thereafter to reach 14.6 per million in males and 8.7 in females in 1996. The downward trends after 1987 were consistent in middle age and elderly population, but asthma mortality tended to rise in children and young adults over the last few years. In Spain, overall age-standardized mortality rates from asthma declined in men from 37.8 in 1980-1981 to 10.1 in 1996, and from 19.5 in 1980-1981 to 13.2 per million females in 1996. In women, the fall in mortality rates was smaller, and overall mortality was higher than in males since early 1990s. Trends of asthma mortality in Italy and Spain were favourable over the last decade.