Thunderstorm survey results show asthma awareness needed to save lives
Tuesday 14 March 2017
MELBOURNE: Asthma Australia is urging Australians to be aware of the symptoms of asthma and first aid steps to help someone having an asthma attack.
Asthma affects 1 in 9 Australians1. During an asthma attack, symptoms can escalate rapidly and may be fatal if not treated.
Following the thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in November 2016, Asthma Australia conducted a survey of over 3,000 people.
Of the 2,500 respondents who reported experiencing an asthma attack, 40% had not been diagnosed with asthma.
Only half (53%) of those who had been diagnosed with asthma were aware of the asthma first aid steps, compared to just 25% for those who were not diagnosed.
Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Australia said; “The survey responses show many people had asthma symptoms that were totally unexpected and quickly became serious. Because so many did not have an asthma diagnosis, they did not know what was happening or what to do. We need to make sure the whole community can identify asthma symptoms and act in an asthma emergency.”
The thunderstorm asthma epidemic was caused by very high levels of rye grass pollen particles being fragmented and dispersed by extreme weather conditions.
These were then inhaled into the airways and in those who were susceptible, caused a reaction leading to inflammation of the airways and difficulty breathing.
Of the survey respondents who had an asthma attack, 92% were hay fever sufferers and 40% were not taking hay fever treatment at the time.
Survey respondent Emma Hart was at home with her baby when the thunderstorm hit. She said; “I'm not diagnosed with asthma, I just get wheezing symptoms with hay fever so I was unsure whether to call for an ambulance. I kept thinking 'I'm not really asthmatic, I'm being dramatic'.
I was coughing, my chest kept getting tighter and I realised I was unable to recover my breath. After about 20 minutes I called 000. The paramedics were fantastic, and I responded well to reliever medication. They told me they had 120 more cases queued up to see after me, that’s when I knew something serious was happening.
I went to my doctor after the event who said my reaction was due to hay fever and to carry reliever medication just in case. I now carry a reliever puffer with me everywhere.”
Professor Jo Douglass heads the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and is an honorary professor at the University of Melbourne. She said; “Coughing, a tight chest, wheezing and shortness of breath are common asthma symptoms. Unfortunately, these may not be recognised as asthma, particularly in someone who has hay fever or who has not experienced asthma symptoms for many years. It’s important to remember that asthma is more common in those who suffer from hay fever.
Asthma symptoms can appear at any point in someone’s life. Asthma medication is unlikely to cause harm to a person whose symptoms are not due to asthma, and for people with asthma it can be a life-saver.”
Prof Douglass was keen to stress the importance of preventer treatments; “Alongside the survey responses, clinical experience since the event is telling us that people who were regularly using asthma preventer medications fared much better.
For anyone diagnosed with both hay fever and wheeze, it is important to discuss with their doctor whether asthma preventer treatment is needed, and if so to take it during the spring grass pollen season.”
For support with asthma call the 1800 ASTHMA Helpline (1800 278 462).
Media enquiries: Annette Stenhouse 0416 861 732
Michele Goldman is available for interview
Professor Jo Douglass is available for interview
Emma Hart is available for interview
1 National Health Survey 2014-15, Australian Bureau of Statistics http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001
About Asthma Australia www.asthmaaustralia.org.au
For over 50 years Asthma Australia and Asthma Foundations have been the leaders in asthma health care, research and support. Asthma Australia delivers evidence-based preventative health strategies to over 200,000 people every year and provides support, training and resources to the primary health care sector. They fund vital basic science and population health research contributing to national and international understandings of asthma and how best to manage the disease.