Older Australians at greater asthma risk, women most of all

man receiving oxygen inhaler after asthma attack

Asthma is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year in Australia and new figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveal those over 75 are at greater risk, with women in that age group at the greatest risk of all.

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs. The airways are highly sensitive and can swell up in response to certain triggers such as exercise, dust and pet hair.

The muscles in the airways tighten and the lining becomes swollen and inflamed, producing a sticky mucous. The airway narrows, making it difficult to breathe and causing typical asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

According to the AIHW, there were 417 asthma-related deaths in Australia in 2020. Of those, 274 were females and 143 males. Shockingly, more than 72 per cent of all female asthma deaths were in those aged 75 and over.

Read: What does aircon really do to your body?

Despite advances in the field of asthma management, there is no cure for the condition. As a result, the National Asthma Council (NAC) says asthma deaths remain “stubbornly high”.

“It is concerning that the number of women dying from asthma is going up the last few years rather than going down and women now account for 65 per cent of all deaths from asthma in Australia,” said Dr Jonathan Burdon, respiratory physician and NAC spokesperson.

“Asthma remains a significant cause of ill health, disability and poor quality of life in Australia and women aged over 75 are still the most at risk, with 72 per cent of all female asthma deaths coming from this age group.”

In general, adult women are more than twice as likely to suffer from severe asthma as adult men. It’s believed the gender disparity is the result of hormonal differences in lung cells.

A drop in hormone levels as a woman ages and begins menopause is a known trigger for asthma symptoms.

Read: What you need to know about asthma

Another group of concern is the 55-to-64-year group, both male and female, as it jumped from 29 asthma deaths in 2019 to 47 deaths in 2020.

Australians suffer from one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with around 10 per cent of the population affected. Experts suspect high pollen levels have an influence.

Asthma is a chronic disease with no cure and needs to be managed at all times, not just when symptoms present.

“Australia has one of the highest prevalence rates of asthma in the world with 2.7 million Australians (1 in 10) affected by asthma and it is crucial that people are aware of the risks,” Dr Burdon says.

“The NAC is urging all Australians with asthma to check in with your doctor to review your written asthma action plan; make sure you are using your inhaler properly and you know what to do during a thunderstorm or asthma emergency.”

Read: The superfood beating asthma

A written asthma action plan is created by you and your doctor to help manage your asthma. It includes information about what you must do to stay healthy, and what to do when your asthma is unstable and you need help.

There is no ‘standard’ asthma action plan, as everyone’s asthma symptoms and triggers are different.

Your plan needs to be developed to deal with your own triggers symptoms, and medication. Speak to your GP if asthma is troubling you.

Do you suffer from asthma? Have you developed an asthma action plan with your doctor? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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