BACKGROUND: Recently performed studies have found a number of limitations in the daily lives of asthmatics, and a large disparity between the perception of the sufferers and what health care professionals believe matters to asthmatics. AIM: What matters to Swedish asthma patients, what medicines do they use, and are they compliant with given prescriptions? A further aim was to compare perceptions about asthma and asthma management in asthmatics and among Swedish general practitioners (GP). DESIGN: A structured telephone interview of a representative sample of Swedish asthmatics, and a mailed questionnaire survey among GPs from different parts of Sweden. METHODS: Screening by telephone of a random sample of 10,350 subjects aged 18-45. Of those, 240 were subsequently selected for a detailed structured telephone interview about their asthma. A mailed structured questionnaire containing similar questions to those asked of the asthmatics was sent to 600 GPs, and 139 returned completed answers. RESULTS: 16% of the asthmatics reported (asthma) symptoms occurring every day during the previous month. Nocturnal symptoms at least twice per week were reported by 19%. Both these were reported by considerably higher proportions of the asthmatics than the GPs had expected. A large majority classified their disease as mild or very mild, although great majority reported frequent symptoms. Activities or situations which caused symptoms of asthma often or "now and then" were physical exertion, 67%; bad weather, 59%; contact with animals/pets, 58%; and visits to cafes or restaurants, 36%; and several asthmatics avoided these activities due to their asthma. CONCLUSION: A great majority of asthmatics report a large number of symptoms and limitations in their daily living in proportions which were roughly expected by the GPs.