Older women more likely to die of asthma

woman with asthma in hospital bed with nurse
Hospital nurse helps a senior woman breath through an oxygen mask.

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed that more than 57% of asthma deaths occurred in people aged 75 and over.

In total, 389 deaths were recorded in 2013, affecting 248 females and 141 males. Overall the asthma death toll dropped by five people, compared with 2012 data.

The majority of deaths occurred in New South Wales (122), with a similar number of deaths to the previous year. Victoria saw a drop in asthma deaths (from 113 down to 92), while Queensland deaths increased (from 74 up to 85).

The 2013 ABS data released today also found that women over 75 years old were two to three times more likely to die from asthma compared to their male counterparts.

Dr Jonathan Burdon AM, Chair of the National Asthma Council Australia and respiratory physician, says that although up to one in seven older Australians have asthma, about half of all people with asthma aged 75 years and over have not been diagnosed by a doctor.

“Contrary to popular belief, people can get asthma for the first time later in their lives,” he says.

“Without proper attention and management, new-onset asthma can be as deadly as long-standing asthma in adults if ignored.

“It is essential that those who experience asthma signs and symptoms take action, and not dismiss or confuse them as simply due to ‘old age’.”

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 389 in 2013. 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 science in asthma management, including tools like the recently updated Australian Asthma Handbook.

“However, every death is a tragedy and the new data should be a major wake up call, especially amongst newly diagnosed adults, or those who suspect they may have developed the potentially life-threatening condition later in life,” he says.

“Asthma can’t be cured but it can be controlled with asthma preventer and reliever medication and by following an up-to-date asthma action plan either in hard copy or on the Asthma Buddy app, prepared with your doctor.”

Next Tuesday 5 May is World Asthma Day.

The National Asthma Council is urging Australians to ensure they have an up-to-date asthma action plan, and regularly discuss the control of their asthma with their doctor.

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