Telethon research funding aims to help WA teens breathe easier - Institute for Respiratory Health

Telethon research funding aims to help WA teens breathe easier

Monday, May 06, 2024 | News

The Institute for Respiratory Health, with funding from Telethon, is leading a new collaborative study to create a decision-support tool. The tool aims to ensure Western Australian teenagers and young adults with breathing problems receive the right diagnosis.

Breathlessness and cough can have many causes. One very common cause in Australia is asthma, which affects one in ten children. There are also conditions which have similar symptoms to asthma but typically don’t respond well to inhaler therapy.

Conditions such as Inducible Laryngeal Obstruction (also known as vocal cord dysfunction) and breathing pattern disorders, can be very difficult to identify in the community as there are very few tools available to GPs to uncover these conditions.

Dr Alice Crawford, who works at the Institute and is leading the research said, “People suffering from these conditions describe a sudden onset of severe breathlessness and cough, usually in response to strong smells, chemicals, irritants, or even with high-intensity exercise. It can be quite frightening.

“They often say inhalers such as Ventolin aren’t very effective, or that they need very large doses for it to have any effect. Instead, they will move away from the irritant and wait for it to pass on its own. Sometimes though, their symptoms are so severe that they seek emergency care.”

Based on current evidence, these conditions seem to be more common in people with asthma. Because of this, discovering what is asthma and what is not, is essential.

Another issue is that we do not have great multidisciplinary teams that can help diagnose what the problem is. Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital is currently working with Perth Children’s Hospital to provide this service. But the problem is not many doctors know that it’s available. Consequently, many people suffer in silence – not knowing that help is at hand.

“Our research will develop a decision-support tool to help GPs identify young people with these conditions and provide support in accessing multidisciplinary specialist care,” Dr Crawford said.  

The collaborative research team comprises Dr Stephen Oo and Professor Alan James from the University of Western Australia, along with Associate Professor John Blakey, a consultant in respiratory and sleep medicine.

The participating research institutions include AsthmaWA, the Busselton Population Medical Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth Children’s Hospital, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia.