SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- The common symptoms of asthma are wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and cough.
- Different triggers bring on asthma symptoms in different people.
- Asthma can be controlled with regular preventer medication (if prescribed) and using a reliever when symptoms flare up.
- People experiencing asthma-like symptoms for the first time should visit their GP for assessment and advice, and if appropriate develop an asthma action plan.
- An asthma attack can threaten life – call triple zero (000) for an ambulance in an emergency and tell the operator that someone is having an asthma attack.
- Find out more about asthma and its treatment – this will help improve your control of asthma and make you feel more confident to look after yourself, your child or anyone in your care.
- A range of programs and services are available to support Australians with asthma.
causes the muscles in the airways to tighten and the lining of the airway becomes swollen and inflamed, producing sticky mucous. These changes cause the airways to become narrow, making it difficult to breathe.
Asthma can be triggered by a range of factors such as pollen, house dust mites, cigarette smoke, exercise or associated with a common cold.
Asthma cannot be cured, but with good management, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives. A range of programs and services are available to support people with asthma.
Symptoms of asthma
Asthma tends to run in families. Asthma affects everyone differently, and 2 children from the same family can have different asthma patterns and triggers.
Typical asthma symptoms include:
- wheezing – a whistling noise when breathing
- shortness of breath
- a tight feeling in the chest
- allergy triggers – such as , , pets and
- viral infections – for example, and
- or changes in the weather
- – for example, wood dust, chemicals, metal salts
- some medication.
In addition, asthma can also be triggered by a combination of high grass pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm, causing many people to develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time. This is known as thunderstorm asthma.
These events are uncommon and don’t occur every year, but when they do, they can happen in south-east Australia during the grass pollen season, from October through December.
Having good control of your asthma and hay fever can help reduce your risk of thunderstorm asthma.
If you’ve ever had asthma, talk to your GP about what you can do to help protect yourself from the risk of thunderstorm asthma this pollen season.
Diagnosis of asthma
There is no single test for asthma.
How well the lungs work (lung function) is tested using a spirometer machine.
Spirometry measures the amount of air you can breathe in and out of your lungs, and how hard and fast you can breathe out. You blow into a tube as forcefully as you can for a few seconds. The spirometer measures the amount of air pushed through the tube, as well as lung capacity and other measurements.
Most adults and children over 6 years of age can do the spirometry test correctly.
Treatment for asthma
- Relievers – that act quickly to relax the muscles around the airways. This is the medication used during an asthma attack.
- Preventers – that slowly make the airways less sensitive to triggers and reduce inflammation inside the airways. They are taken daily to help keep you well.
- Combination therapies – that are preventers containing 2 or 3 different medicines.
- Add-on medications – that help manage severe asthma. This includes monoclonal antibodies.
Management of asthma
- See your GP for regular check-ups and work together to manage your asthma.
- Understand what triggers your asthma – this can be different for everyone.
- Try to avoid or reduce your exposure to these triggers.
- Use your medications as instructed by your GP, even when you feel well.
- Make sure you are using your inhaler correctly, including using a spacer and mask where required.
- Follow your written .
Ask your GP for a personal written asthma action plan. As well as being a reminder of your usual treatment, an action plan helps you to recognise worsening asthma and tells you what to do in response.
What to do during an asthma attack or flare-up
An asthma attack can come on gradually (for example, if a person gets a cold) or quite quickly (for example, if a person inhales something they are allergic to, such as pollen).
The symptoms to look out for include:
- increased wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing
- needing to use a reliever again within 3 hours of last taking it
- unable to talk in full sentences
- waking often at night with asthma symptoms.
An asthma attack can become life threatening if not treated properly, even in someone whose asthma is usually mild or well controlled.
Always call an ambulance in an asthma emergency
In an emergency, always call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Tell the operator that someone is having an asthma attack. The signs of an asthma emergency include when the person:
- finds it very difficult to breathe
- is unable to speak in sentences or only speaks one or 2 words per breath
- has lips that are turning blue
- has symptoms that get worse very quickly
- is getting little or no relief from their reliever inhaler.
Asthma in Australia
Some other facts about asthma in Australia include:
- Asthma is one of the most common reasons for admission to hospital for children.
- Asthma is more common among boys than girls in primary school age children.
- After the teenage years, more women have asthma than men.
- Asthma is more common among Indigenous Australians, particularly adults, than among other Australians.
- People with asthma commonly have other allergic conditions like or hay fever.
- People with asthma report poorer general health and quality of life than people without asthma.
- Thunderstorm asthma events are uncommon and don’t occur every year. In south-east Australia they can happen during grass pollen season from October through December.
National asthma management strategies
Asthma is a national health priority in Australia. Strategies to monitor and manage asthma in Australia include:
- – information about how to obtain prompt medical assistance in an emergency.
- – provides a range of asthma-related programs and activities, and conducts asthma first aid training. It also delivers the Asthma Child and Adolescent Program and the Community Support Program.
- – monitors and reports on airways disease (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in Australia.
- – works with health professionals to improve health outcomes for people with asthma and provides a range of information for the community.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Your nearest (for medication)
- – videos to help you better understand and manage your child's asthma
- Tel. – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- Tel. 13 SICK () – for after-hours home GP visits (bulked billed)
- – for videos, resources, facts sheets, asthma action plans and asthma first aid
- Tel. 1800 ASTHMA ()
- – asthma information, asthma medication and devices, device technique videos, asthma action plans and asthma first aid steps
- – an evidence-based website developed by clinicians for clinicians, led by the . It provides educational content on topics relevant to severe asthma and practical resources and tools to guide optimal asthma management by health care professionals