Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Asthma. Cat. no. ACM 33. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 December 2019, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/asthma
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Asthma. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/asthma
Asthma. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 30 August 2019, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/asthma
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Asthma [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019 [cited 2019 Dec. 14]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/asthma
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Asthma, viewed 14 December 2019, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/asthma
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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. People with asthma experience episodes of wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness due to widespread narrowing of the airways.
1 in 9 Australians had asthma in 2017–18 that had been diagnosed by a doctor or nurse based on self-reported survey data
441 deaths were due to asthma in 2017
Around 1 in 4 aged 15 and over with asthma had a written asthma action plan, based on 2017–18 self-reported survey data
Asthma is a common chronic condition of the airways. People with asthma experience episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness due to widespread narrowing of the airways. The symptoms of asthma vary over time and may be present or absent at any point in time . Asthma affects people of all ages and has a substantial impact on the community. In Australia, asthma accounted for 34% of the total burden of disease due to respiratory conditions and 2.5% of the total disease burden in 2015 . In 2015–16, Asthma cost the Australian health system an estimated $770.4 million, representing 19% of disease expenditure for respiratory conditions and 0.7% of total disease expenditure .
The symptoms of asthma are usually reversible, either with or without treatment. The severity of asthma ranges from mild, intermittent symptoms, causing few problems for the individual, to severe and persistent wheezing and shortness of breath. In a few people with asthma, the disease has a severe adverse impact on quality of life and may be life-threatening.
While the underlying causes of asthma are still not well understood, there are a number of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of developing asthma.
A number of factors can trigger asthma symptoms, and triggers may differ between individuals.
Triggers for asthma symptoms may include:
It can be difficult to distinguish asthma from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because the symptoms of both conditions can be similar—both are chronic inflammatory diseases that involve the small airways and cause airflow limitation . Although the current definitions of asthma  and COPD  overlap, there are some important features that distinguish typical COPD from typical asthma. For example, people with COPD continue to lose lung function despite taking medication, which is not a common feature of asthma. More information and reports on COPD can be found under COPD.
There is increasing recognition of asthma-COPD overlap (also called asthma-COPD overlap syndrome, or ACOS). Overall, approximately 20% of patients with obstructive airway disease have been diagnosed with both asthma and COPD  (for more information on prevalence, see Asthma-COPD overlap 2017). It is important to identify people with asthma-COPD overlap, because they are at higher risk than patients with asthma or COPD alone, and because they should be treated differently from people with asthma or COPD alone . The National Asthma Council Australia & Lung Foundation recently released an information paper on Asthma-COPD overlap, which includes recommendations for the treatment and management of the condition .
The National Asthma Strategy 2018 (the Strategy) was launched in January 2018. The Strategy aims to outline Australia’s national response to asthma and inform how existing limited health care resources can be better coordinated and targeted across all levels of government . The Strategy identifies the most effective and appropriate interventions to reduce the impact of asthma in the community and continue to be an international leader in asthma prevention, management and research . The AIHW will monitor and report on the outcome measures associated with The Strategy by reporting on the 10 national asthma indicators. For more information, see National Asthma Strategy 2018.
Around 2.7 million Australians (11% of the total population) have asthma, based on self‑reported data from the 2017–18 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey (NHS) . In children, aged 5–14 years, asthma is a leading cause of total disease burden, contributing 14% of total burden for boys aged 5–14 and 12% of total disease burden for girls aged 5–14 .
Based on the 2017–18 NHS, among those aged 0–14 asthma was more common among boys but among those aged 15–24 asthma was similar between males and females. Conversely, among those aged 25 and over (with the exception of the 35–44 years age group), asthma was more common among women (Figure 1). This change in prevalence for men and women in adulthood is likely due to a complex interaction between changing airway size and hormonal changes that occur during adolescent development, as well as differences in environmental exposures .
Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2019  (Data table).
In 2012–13, 18% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians had asthma (an estimated 112,000 people), with a higher rate among females (20%) compared with males (15%).
The prevalence of asthma was almost twice as high among Indigenous Australians compared with non-Indigenous Australians (a rate ratio of 1.9) after adjusting for difference in age structure .
The difference in asthma prevalence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians exists across all age groups, but is more marked for older adults (Figure 2).
Source: Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (AATSIHS) 2012–13: First results, Table 6 (Data table).
The rate of asthma varies by remoteness and socioeconomic area.
For socioeconomic area:
Asthma is associated with poorer quality of life, with disease severity and the level of control both having an impact. Asthma has varying degrees of impact on the physical, psychological and social wellbeing of people living with the condition. People with asthma are more likely to describe themselves as having a poor quality of life. This is more pronounced among people with severe or poorly controlled asthma [14, 15]. Asthma is described as well-controlled when there are few symptoms and little reliever use (for example, less than 2 days/week), and no night waking or limitation of activity. A 2012 survey of 2,686 Australians aged 16 years and older with current asthma found that asthma was not well-controlled in 45% of people with current asthma. More than half of this group were not using a preventer inhaler, or were using it infrequently .
In 2017–18, self-assessed health status among people with asthma aged 15 years and over was, on average, worse than among those without asthma. For example, people with asthma were less likely to describe themselves as having excellent health (11% and 23%, respectively), and more likely to describe themselves as having fair (16% and 9.9%, respectively) or poor (7.4% and 3.0%, respectively) health compared with people without asthma (Figure 4).
Note: Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian Standard population.
In 2017–18, people with asthma were more likely to experience high (15%) and very high (11%) levels of psychological distress compared with those without asthma (8.7% and 3.4%, respectively) (Figure 5).
In 2017–18, people with asthma were more likely to experience moderate (27%), severe (11%) and very severe (2.8%) bodily pain compared with people without asthma (17%, 5.4% and 1.3%, respectively) (Figure 6).
In 2017–18, people aged 15 to 64 years with asthma were slightly less likely to be employed (73%) compared with people without asthma (77%) (Figure 7).
People with asthma often have other chronic diseases and long term chronic conditions. See Asthma, associated comorbidities and risk factors.
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