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New National Asthma Management Guidelines Released

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Exercising regularly and healthy eating contribute to keeping asthma at bay.

New Australian asthma management guidelines released today urge doctors to advise patients that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important, as is using the right medications for managing asthma.

The updated Australian Asthma Handbook developed by the National Asthma Council Australia was launched by The Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Health and Minister for Sport. It was developed by a multidisciplinary team of nearly 100 medical experts and contains the most rigorous up-to-date evidence presented in a practical and easy-to-navigate online format.

Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with over 2.2 million Australians living with the condition, around 1 in 10 adults and children.

Professor Amanda Barnard, Chair of the National Asthma Council Australia Guidelines Committee and general practitioner, said:

“As asthma is one of the most common health conditions in Australia, it is essential that patients benefit from the latest evidence on diagnosing and managing asthma.

Since the release of the last guidelines in 2006, the science of asthma management has advanced substantially. This Handbook will help doctors, nurses and pharmacists provide patients with the most accurate information, including advice on the crucial but often understated impact of healthy lifestyle choices on asthma.”

New research has found that asthma does not prevent people from being physically active and that all forms of exercise, not just limited to swimming, are beneficial for asthma outcomes. Moreover, for people who are overweight, losing as little as 5–10 kg can significantly improve their asthma.

“There is a misconception in our communities that swimming is the only exercise people with asthma, particularly children, should be doing to improve their condition. However new science has shown that any moderately intense physical activity improves cardiopulmonary fitness and quality of life in people with asthma. Swimming can do that, but so can a range of other physical activity options such as team sports,” said Professor Barnard.

The Handbook also highlights emerging evidence that healthy eating may contribute to better airway health. Doctors are urged to encourage patients to eat more fruits, vegetables and fish, and to minimise intake of saturated fat. Dietary restrictions such as low-salt diets and avoiding food additives or dairy foods (if not lactose-intolerant) are not proven strategies for managing asthma, neither are any dietary supplements proven to improve asthma.

The 2014 Australian National Handbook is available at www.asthmahandbook.org.au

For more information on asthma, visit the National Asthma Council Australia website:www.nationalasthma.org.au

ASTHMA AT A GLANCE

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
 (Source: National Asthma Council Australia)
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Dates

Posted On: 3 March, 2014
Modified On: 13 April, 2014

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