Asthma affects 2.7 million Australians – that’s an incredible 10.7 per cent or nearly one in nine people.
The chronic disease causes airways in the lungs to tighten, swell and become clogged with mucus, making breathing more difficult.
In 2015, the cost to Australia’s health system was a staggering $28 billion or $11,740 per asthmatic.
Some $24.7 billion of that was attributed to payments for disability and premature death.
While death is uncommon, there were still 417 attributed to asthma in Australia in 2020 with a disproportionately high percentage of females (274 or 65.7 per cent).
Women aged over 75 were the highest risk group.
Additionally, Indigenous Australians are 1.6 times more likely to develop asthma than the general population, while people living in poverty or lower socio-economic areas are also at greater risk.
Hospitalisations have fallen since the late 1990s but remain stubbornly high at around 38,000 per annum in Australia.
Around 80 per cent of these are preventable.
Significantly, those with asthma report a lower quality of life.
There remains no cure but asthma can be controlled with medication before it flares into a potentially life-threatening condition.
Like any disease, early diagnosis is vitally important.
Asthma risk factors
Family history is one of the biggest risk factors.
If one of your parents was an asthmatic, you are between three and six times more likely to develop the condition.
But there are many other important risk factors:
Allergies – people who suffer eczema and hay fever tend to be more prone to developing asthma. Dust mites can also act as a trigger.
Smoking – cigarette smoke irritates the lungs and puts smokers at higher risk. Babies of mothers who smoked while pregnant or were exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to develop asthma.
Obesity – puts people at greater risk. It remains unclear why but is thought to be related to inflammation that occurs in the body of obese and overweight people. They are also more likely to be on other medications which make controlling their asthma more challenging.
Viral respiratory infections – these may cause wheezing in infants and childhood. Some of these children will develop chronic asthma.
Air pollution – exposure to smog raises the risk of asthma hence children who grew up in bigger cities are more prone to develop the disease than those in rural areas.
Occupational exposure – dust, chemical fumes, vapours and moulds can all trigger asthma.
Storms – Thunderstorms and heavy rains have been known to trigger asthmatic events. It is believed this is caused by the bursting of pollen grains releasing large amounts of pollen into the atmosphere.
Key symptoms of asthma
Symptoms or warning signs of asthma differ from person to person.
Some may have only one symptom, others will have many.
Many of them resemble symptoms of a heart attack
Here are they key symptoms to be on the lookout for:
Wheezing – one of the classic symptoms, wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when you are struggling to breathe. It is slightly more pronounced upon exhaling.
Coughing – another common symptom which may be worse early in the morning or late at night. It is sometimes triggered by exercise, extreme cold and dry air or being exposed to irritants or allergens.
Shortness of breath – that feeling when you can’t quite get enough air into your lungs. It may present gradually or suddenly and be accompanied by wheezing or coughing.
Chest tightness or pain – any feeling of discomfort or pressure in the chest could be asthma. This symptom may also be accompanied by wheezing or coughing.
Difficulty breathing – a feeling of suffocation is a more serious symptom of asthma and one which demands immediate medical attention.
Waking at night – your sleep may be disturbed as you struggle to get enough air into your lungs.
Book an appointment
Observing a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone but particularly those at a higher risk of developing asthma.
If you suspect you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is vitally important you book an appointment with your GP for a proper assessment and diagnosis.
There is not one specific test to diagnose asthma.
Rather, your doctor will ask about your family history and lifestyle and may engage a lung function test (spirometer) which measures the volume of air inhaled and exhaled.
Once diagnosed, your GP can help you with an asthma management strategy which will give you the best chance of staying fit and healthy and out of hospital.
Remember, see your GP if you think you may have asthma, to monitor your condition after diagnosis or if your diagnosed symptoms deteriorate.
You should seek emergency treatment if your shortness of breath or wheezing becomes worse, if you gain no relief from your prescribed inhaler or if you suffer shortness of breath while doing little or no activity.
If you’re concerned about whether you may have asthma, don’t delay and book an appointment here today.