Middle-aged and older women with asthma are being urged to take action to manage their condition as new data from the ABS highlights that women aged over 55 continue to be most at risk of dying from asthma.
In total, 419 asthma-related deaths were recorded in Australia in 2014, comprising 277 females and 142 males. The overall figure was up slightly from 389 deaths in 2013 probably in line with the ageing population, according to the National Asthma Council Australia.
Dr Jonathan Burdon AM, Chair of the National Asthma Council Australia and respiratory physician, says the toll is still a concern especially for women with asthma.
“The data shows that middle-aged women (aged 55-74) were twice as likely to die from asthma compared to their male counterparts, while older women aged over 75 were almost three times more likely to die from asthma then men of the same age. This is despite the prevalence of asthma sitting at around 9% for men and 13% for women,” he says.
Dr Burdon says that there is not a definitive answer as to why older women are more affected by asthma, but it is likely a culmination of factors.
“We know that women have slightly higher prevalence rates for asthma, but we don’t have conclusive evidence as to why women are dying from asthma at two to three times the rates of men.
“This general trend is seen throughout the world, and various studies suggest that there are likely a number of factors at play – diagnostic, biological, lifestyle, societal and environmental.”
Dr Burdon says that asthma deaths in Australia have dropped significantly over the years, from a peak of 964 deaths in 1989 to the latest toll of 419 in 2014.
The number of children and young people dying from asthma has also continued to fall and is now less than half of what it was in 2012 (from 24 down to 11 in 2014).
But he warns that there is no room for complacency.
“The drop in asthma deaths is due to the ongoing education of health care professionals, the community and patients on the latest scientific evidence in asthma management, including tools like the Australian Asthma Handbook, the national treatment guidelines for asthma.”
The National Asthma Council is also coordinating the development of the 2016–2020 National Asthma Strategy – a new, national plan for reducing the impact of asthma on individuals, the community and the economy.
“The plan will take Australia to the next stage of improvement in asthma health outcomes and targets those groups that are especially at risk,” he says.
Dr Burdon says that with asthma deaths largely preventable, people with asthma and their carers need to ensure that they take appropriate action to manage their asthma.
Advice for asthmatics
- Don’t ignore or dismiss breathing problems
- See your doctor for regular asthma check-ups
- Follow an up-to-date asthma action plan
- Ask your pharmacist to show you exactly how to use your inhaler correctly
- Tell your doctor and pharmacist about other medicines you are taking
- Get your flu shot (it’s free for people over 65)
- Quit smoking and avoid other people’s tobacco smoke