Asthma: Women at higher risk of attacks and death than men
Researchers at the Institute for Respiratory Health say that millions of women with asthma are drawing the short straw with too little research exploring the reasons for this disparity.
Associate Professor John Blakey from the Institute for Respiratory Health said, “Asthma becomes more common in females than males after puberty. Women experience more symptoms, more unscheduled healthcare visits and admissions for asthma than men, and are more likely to die from the disease.”
In childhood, asthma is indeed more prevalent and severe in boys. However, after puberty, the situation changes and asthma becomes more prevalent and severe among women. 14.2 per cent of women in comparison to 5.4 per cent of men have asthma in the 45-54 age group in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
Pollen, air pollution and dust are well-known asthma triggers but what people might not be aware of is that fluctuations in female sex hormones can also predispose to the onset of asthma, cause asthma symptoms to flare-up, or even trigger life-threatening asthma attacks.
“Today on International Women’s Day, the Institute wants to spotlight the link between times of hormonal change (during puberty, periods, pregnancy and peri-menopause) and asthma,” Professor Blakey said. “For example, a perimenstrual worsening of asthma is relatively common but is something that is often not asked about or volunteered.”
To protect themselves Professor Blakey suggests that women take their preventer medicine every day as prescribed, because oestrogens worsen the type of asthma inflammation that inhaled steroids treat.
“However, the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to asthma treatment isn’t helping women with more severe disease. We’d encourage women who don’t have good asthma control to seek referrals for review in a multidisciplinary severe asthma clinic,” said Professor Blakey.
“The gap in our knowledge due to a relative lack of research for this common condition is failing women, leaving them struggling with potentially debilitating asthma symptoms.”
- The Institute for Respiratory Health is an international leader in asthma clinical trials and is currently investigating several new treatments that could improve lives in the near future, alongside long-term observational studies of current specialist treatments.
- The Asthma team at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the Institute for Respiratory Health were co-applicants on a recently successful NMHRC grant of >$1.8million with colleagues in Newcastle and Melbourne to investigate the scale of the benefits of systematic multidisciplinary assessment in asthma on reducing tablet steroid use.
- John Blakey is the medical advisor for Asthma Australia and is on the advisory panel for Asthma WA. His comments here are not intended to represent the views of these institutions or Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.