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Asthma at a Glance

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What is asthma?

  • Asthma is a disease of the airways, the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs
  • Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath
  • Most people with asthma only get symptoms when they inhale a trigger that irritates their airways, exercise without the right preparation, or catch a cold
  • There is no ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of asthma – doctors will consider the symptom pattern and any other health issues, do a chest exam and often conduct a breathing test (called spirometry)
  • Asthma tends to run in families, so doctors will also ask about family members with asthma

 

Common asthma triggers

The many triggers for asthma can be different for different people. Common triggers are:

  • Allergy-related triggers, e.g. house dust mites, pollens, pets, moulds
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Viral infections, e.g. colds and flu
  • Weather, e.g. cold air, change in temperature, thunderstorms
  • Work-related triggers, e.g. wood dust, chemicals, metal salts

 

Treating asthma

Asthma isn’t yet curable, but it can be managed.

  • Medications are the mainstay of asthma management
  • All people with asthma should have a reliever inhaler (puffer) to use when their symptoms flare up
  • Some people also have preventer medication they take every day

 

Taking control

With good management, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives. The key steps are:

  • Understand and avoid your asthma triggers
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups and work together to manage your asthma
  • Follow your personal written asthma action plan, developed with your doctor
  • Use your medications as prescribed, even when you feel well
  • Make sure you are using your inhaler (puffer) correctly
  • Live a healthy lifestyle – stop smoking, follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly

 

Asthma facts & figures

  • Over 2 million Australians have asthma – about 1 in 9 or 10 children and about 1 in 10 adults
  • Our rate is high by international standards
  • The rate of asthma has declined in kids over the past decade but it has remained stable in adults
  • More boys than girls have asthma, but after about age 15 it’s more common in women than men
  • Asthma is more common in Indigenous Australians, particularly adults, than in other Australians
  • In 2011 (the latest figures) 378 people died from asthma, with the risk highest in the elderly

 

Living with asthma

  • Many people with asthma (around 80%) also have allergies like hay fever
  • People with asthma smoke at least as much as people without asthma, despite the greater impact
  • Around 8% of kids with asthma live with someone who smokes inside the house
  • People with asthma are more likely to take days off work, school or study than other people
  • People with asthma rate their health worse than do people without the condition and report more anxiety and depression – this is common for many chronic diseases
  • Hospital visits for asthma peak in February and May for children, and in winter for adults
  • Many leading sportspeople have asthma, including Australian swimmers Dawn Fraser, Libby Trickett and Grant Hackett, Australian athlete Matt Shirvington and UK soccer superstar David Beckham
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Dates

Posted On: 12 March, 2014
Modified On: 4 May, 2014

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