Bronchial asthma is now increasingly recognized in the elderly and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The aims of this study were two-fold: first, to assess the prevalence and, second, to evaluate diagnostic awareness, therapeutic management and patient perception of bronchial asthma among elderly patients in the community. From the age-sex register of an urban general practice in NE England, 2004 patients aged > 65 years were eligible for inclusion. Response to an initial screening questionnaire on respiratory symptomatology was 68% (n = 1362). Of these, 869 patients had respiratory symptoms: 390 voluntarily agreed to be evaluated further including assessment of airway physiology. In this group 369/390 had obstructive spirometry and, of these, 95 patients fulfilled clinical and physiological criteria of bronchial asthma. Prevalence of asthma within this age cohort was minimally and rather crudely assigned at 4.5% (95/2004). Among the 95 patients so-defined patients with asthma [age 70 +/- 8 years (mean +/- SD), FEV1 = 0.96 +/- 0.41, 33 male, 75 life-long non-smokers], subjective awareness, perception and attribution of pulmonary symptoms were poor. Further, despite tangible evidence of reversible and significant airflow limitation, only 21 were receiving inhaled glucocorticoid therapy (median daily dose 400 micrograms). Asthma in the elderly remains poorly perceived, poorly recognized and suboptimally treated. These findings are particularly apposite in the light of current epidemiological trends in asthma mortality and morbidity in elderly age cohorts.