Asthma affects 1 in 10 Australians

Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions affecting Australians, with 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 9 children diagnosed with the disease. While the number of Australians affected has remained relatively steady, there has been a concerning increase in the number of deaths from the disease in recent years.

In this month’s blog, we take a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment of asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a long-term lung disorder that affects the small airways, which are called bronchioles.

When someone has asthma, their lung’s airways will either tighten (due to the thin layer of muscle in the airway contracting), thicken (due to inflammation and swelling, creating less space to breathe through), or fill up with mucus; or a combination of all three.

It can affect people of all ages and is most common in those who have family members with asthma, hay fever, or allergies. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) females are more affected than males, except for in children under the age of 14, where it is more common in boys than girls.

Asthma can be allergic or non-allergic and attacks may be brought on by certain triggers, including allergens, infections, exercise, cold air, changes in temperature and cigarette smoke.

Attacks can happen in people whose symptoms are normally mild or well controlled and serious attacks need urgent medical attention, as they can be deadly.

While deaths from the disease decreased during COVID lockdowns, there has been a significant increase in asthma related deaths since restrictions were lifted. As noted by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), a total of 467 deaths were recorded in Australia in 2022, which is a 32% increase on the 355 deaths recorded in 2021.


Symptoms vary from person to person and can differ for individuals over time.

However, the most common symptoms are:

  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing when breathing out.
  • A tight and heavy feeling in the chest.
  • A continuing cough, particularly at night.
  • Wheezing or coughing with exercise or exercise induced asthma.

If left untreated, it can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and result in:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Poor sleep
  • Being less productive at work or school
  • Not being able to exercise or be as physically active as you would like
  • Reduced lung function
  • Poor mental health

Asthma can quickly develop into an emergency situation, particularly if:

  • your symptoms get worse very quickly;
  • you suddenly find it hard to breathe, have severe shortness of breath, can’t speak normally or comfortably, and/or your lips look blue;
  • you have constant coughing and wheezing or feel a tightness in your chest; and
  • you get little or no relieve from your asthma reliever inhaler

If you experience or notice someone with any of the above, please call 000 immediately and request an ambulance for an ASTHMA EMERGENCY.

The National Asthma Council of Australia has some great Asthma First Aid resources available on how to assist in an asthma emergency>>


While it can’t be cured, it can be effectively managed with an Asthma Action Plan, developed in consultation with your GP.

The Asthma Action Plan is essentially an instruction manual for how to best manage your asthma and what to do if you do develop symptoms or have an attack. The plan has four main sections, including:

  1. How to look after your condition daily.
  2. What to do if your experience flares up.
  3. What to do if your flare-up becomes severe.
  4. What to do in an emergency.

It is recommended you review your plan every 6-12 months.

The National Asthma Council of Australia has some good examples of Asthma Action Plans available and this video from Asthma Australia provides a good overview on the importance of having a plan in place>>

Depending on the severity and known triggers for your asthma, your GP may recommend a number of treatment options, including intranasal corticosteroid sprays, non-sedating antihistamines, combination medications and allergen immunotherapy.

As part of your management, your GP may recommend using an inhaler, which is the most common treatment for asthma and delivers medication directly into the lungs.

There are two main types of inhalers available:

  1. Relievers – generally used to open your airways quickly and relieve symptoms during an attack. Ventolin is the most commonly used reliever.
  2. Preventers/Controllers – anti-inflammatory medicines containing corticosteroids that usually come in an inhaler form, though oral corticosteroids may be used in some instances. Preventers generally need to be used every day to help prevent flare ups and symptoms.


While asthma cannot be completely prevented, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk, including:

  • Get vaccinated – ensure you stay up-to-date with influenza and COVID-19 vaccines, as respiratory viruses can often be a trigger.
  • Avoid known allergies – allergies are another major trigger, so treating your allergies and avoiding any known allergy triggers will also help to reduce your risk.
  • Stay away from smoking – smoking can increase your symptoms and result in more frequent and severe attacks, as well as less benefit from some asthma medications. If you are asthmatic and a non-smoker, you should also try to avoid exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight and obese can make asthma harder to manage.
  • Look after your mental wellbeing – there is a link between mental health and asthma, so looking after your mental wellbeing is important in managing your condition.
  • Use your medicines properly – make sure you know how to use your preventers and relievers properly. If in doubt, visit Asthma Australia’s comprehensive guide on how to use your asthma devices to ensure effective treatment.

Worried about your asthma?

Then book an appointment with one on our GPs to discuss your concerns. Our doctors will work with you to develop an Asthma Action Plan and work out the best treatment options for you.

Bookings can be made online or by contacting us on (08) 9208 6400.

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