Review of data from the National Center for Health Statistics to characterize deaths from asthma disclosed increases in rates of death from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1979 to 1.5 in 1983 and 1984. For black subjects, rates of death from asthma increased from 1.8 in 1979 to 2.5 in 1984; for white subjects, from 1.1 in 1979 to 1.4 in 1984. Age-adjusted rates of death from asthma increased from 1.9 in 1979 to 2.8 in 1983 and 2.6 in 1984 for black subjects, and from 0.8 to 1979 to 1.0 in 1984 for white subjects. Rates for other minority groups have been lower than rates for white subjects. A modest increase in prevalence of asthma among black subjects is insufficient to account for their much higher rate of death from asthma. Increases in rates of death have occurred in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas in all regions of the country and in all but a few states. At least half the deaths from asthma have occurred at hospitals: this proportion did not change from 1979 to 1984. Increases in deaths from asthma have occurred in several other countries as well. Other reviews of deaths from asthma have implicated undertreatment and delays in treatment with bronchodilators and adrenal corticosteroids as factors contributing to death. High rates of death among black subjects suggest underutilization or lack of accessibility of health care. The large proportion of deaths that have occurred at hospitals suggests delays or other inadequacies of treatment at hospitals.