More than 2 million Australians have asthma – about 1 in 9 or 10 children and about 1 in 10 adults. Our rate is high compared to other countries.
Fortunately the rate of asthma has declined in kids over the past decade, although it has remained stable in adults. More boys than girls have asthma, but after about age 15 it’s more common in women than men. Asthma is particularly common in Indigenous Australians, particularly adults. In 2011 (the latest figures at the time of printing this factsheet) 378 people died from asthma, with the elderly most at risk.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the airways, the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Many people with asthma only get symptoms when they inhale a ‘trigger’ that irritates their airways, exercise without the right preparation, or catch a cold.
There is no simple test for the diagnosis of asthma – doctors will consider the patient’s symptoms and any other health issues, do a chest exam and often conduct a breathing test (called spirometry). Asthma tends to run in families, so doctors will also ask about family members with asthma.
Asthma isn’t yet curable but it can be managed.
- Medications are key to asthma management
- All people with asthma should have a reliever inhaler (puffer) to use when their symptoms flare up, e.g Ventolin, Asmol or Bricanyl
- Some people also have preventer medication they take every day
The many triggers for asthma can be different for different people. Common triggers are:
- Allergy-related triggers, e.g. house dust mites, pollens, pets and moulds
- Cigarette smoke
- Viral infections, e.g. colds and flu
- Weather, e.g. cold air, change in temperature, thunderstorms
- Work-related triggers, e.g. wood dust, chemicals
- Exercise (but this can usually be managed)
Living with asthma
Around 4 out of 5 people with asthma also have allergies like hay fever. Treating these allergies can help make asthma easier to manage.
People with asthma are more likely to take days off work, school or study than other people. Hospital visits for asthma peak in February and May for children, and in winter for adults.
Smoking rates for people with asthma are at least as high as for other people, despite the greater impact.
People with asthma rate their health worse than do people without the condition and report more anxiety and depression – this is similar to people with other long-term chronic diseases.
Yet with good management, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives.
Many successful sports people have asthma including Australian Olympian swimmer Libby Trickett and UK soccer superstar David Beckham.