Male asthma deaths not dropping

New ABS data has revealed a significant decrease in asthma-related deaths in Australian women… but what about men?

The number of deaths remains high, however, and the death toll for men has not improved, the National Asthma Council warns.

The figures show there were 389 asthma-related deaths recorded in Australia in 2018, comprising 250 females and 139 males, which signifies a decrease from 441 in 2017, and 457 in 2016.

Those aged 75 and over continue to account for nearly two-thirds of deaths (241 of 389), while deaths in children remain uncommon but can still occur – seven children lost their lives to asthma in 2018.

National Asthma Council Australia chief executive Siobhan Brophy says while adult women are consistently at the highest risk of dying from asthma, the significant drop in deaths from 281 to 234 could be attributed to several mitigating factors.

“We believe that increased patient awareness following the epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in 2016 has played a large role in this reduction,” said Ms Brophy.

“The development of new ways to manage severe asthma is also having an impact – biological agents are improving patient lives, while increased management and review protocols surrounding their potential prescription are providing greater opportunities to optimise patient care.”

NAC spokesperson and general practitioner Dr Ian Almond said that while severe asthma affects only about three to 10% of the 2.5 million Australians with asthma, it can be life-threatening and deeply distressing for patients and their families.

“Severe asthma, which is defined as asthma that remains uncontrolled despite the highest recommended level of inhaled medication or maintenance oral corticosteroids, or that requires such treatment to prevent it becoming uncontrolled, has significant impacts on patient’s health, careers, families and daily lives,” he said.

“While it’s important to ensure that those who could benefit from new treatments are identified correctly and referred promptly, it’s equally important to identify people whose uncontrolled asthma is potentially due to other causes, such as comorbidities or poor adherence, so that these issues can be addressed.”

Ms Brophy said that pharmacists play a vital role in identifying patients who may be at risk of uncontrolled asthma, and are in an ideal position to work with them around adherence, inhaler technique, triggers and the potential for reliever overuse, to help ensure all patients with asthma receive the treatment and support they need to better manage their condition.

“While SABA remains an essential rescue medication, including its use for asthma first aid in the community and acute asthma treatment in emergency settings, for adults and adolescents relying on reliever treatment alone, experiencing symptoms more than twice a month indicates the need for a regular preventer,” she said.

In 2018 chronic lower respiratory diseases (4.9%) continues to remain the fifth leading cause of deaths in Australia (ABS). A significant proportion of asthma morbidity and its associated costs in Australia are preventable.

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