Stakeholders have urged pharmacists to talk to patients with asthma and allergy about thunderstorm asthma
The calls have come during the inquest into the deaths of 10 people during the Melbourne thunderstorm asthma event of November 2016.
Thousands more were affected by thunderstorm asthma, many suffering their first asthma attack on the evening, and 1400 people were hospitalised.
During the inquest allergy specialist Professor Jo Douglass said that health professionals, including GPs and pharmacists, weren’t “very aware” of thunderstorm asthma before the event.
PSA national president Dr Shane Jackson told the AJP that this was quite understandable as thunderstorm asthma was an “under-recognised phenomenon” and that there was no fault attached to the way GPs and pharmacists responded.
Instead, the event “shows what pharmacy does, because of our ethical responsibilities in health care,” he said.
“It’s like when there’s bushfires or floods: community pharmacies stay open all day and work on innovative ways to ensure continuity of supply of medicines.
“The thunderstorm asthma event showed that pharmacy was able to respond, especially from an access point of view, and highlights the role that pharmacy has in that area.”
It is not known how many people were treated in community pharmacy, but the following day AJP reported on two pharmacies which stayed open late to treat streams of patients.
That the inquest heard only three of the 10 victims had asthma action plans highlights the need for better education around these respiratory conditions, says Endeavour Consumer Health.
Prof Douglass had pointed this out at the inquest and said that all 10 victims had been diagnosed with asthma at some point.
Nicole Tyquin, senior brand manager at Endeavour, said that the findings were “alarming” and in line with recent research that showed 90% of Australians with asthma are at risk due to incorrect medication usage, and only 30% have an asthma action plan.
“Despite being one of the most common medical conditions in the country, most Australians aren’t managing their asthma properly,” she said.
“As health professionals, pharmacists and doctors can help buck this trend by educating their patients on asthma risk factors such as thunderstorms and engaging them in the active management of their condition.”
She encouraged patients and health professionals to discuss spacers as well as asthma action plans, as these can increase the amount of medication delivered to the lungs by up to 60% and reduce the amount of it collecting at the back of the throat.
“Doctors and pharmacists play a vital role in the effective management of asthma, including recommending appropriate products to support the treatment and management of symptoms,” Ms Tyquin said.
Shane Jackson also encouraged pharmacists to discuss better management of the condition, as well as thunderstorm asthma, with patients.
The event had raised awareness of asthma management and a number of education programs for health professionals have been rolled out around the country.
“It’s raised understanding, and the benefit of that is, I think, that pharmacists are more proactive in talking about optimal asthma management as well as allergic rhinitis or hayfever management,” he said.
“It has translated down to patients as well. But does that mean everybody’s as informed as we could be, from a pharmacist or patient perspective? No, there is absolutely still work to be done.
“We need to ensure we continue to talk about thunderstorm asthma, especially around the periods of time when it’s more prevalent, and we especially remind pharmacists to relay appropriate messages to patients around optimal control and identification of risk factors.”