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Asthma is a common condition which affects 2.7 million Australians, or 11 per cent of the population. Alarmingly, 389 people died from asthma in 2018 (the latest figures available) and 38,792 Australians were hospitalised in 2017-18.

Asthma doesn’t always follow the rules of logic; while the condition is more common in families with allergies or asthma, not everyone with asthma has allergies. Approximately 80 per cent of asthma hospitalisations are preventable.

Another mystery about asthma is that adults of any age can develop the condition, even if they didn’t have asthma as a child. Weirdly, some people have asthma during childhood, but later may ‘grow out’ of it and have very few or no symptoms as adults.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild, Trent Twomey, said some triggers for asthma are clear, and indoor and outdoor pollution (including moulds, gases, chemicals, particles and cigarette smoke) can increase the chances of developing asthma.

Athletes have also been found to develop asthma after very intensive training over several years, especially while breathing air that is polluted, cold or dry.

Pharmacy Guild President Trent Twomey

Good management is the key

‘People with asthma who are not controlling their condition are putting themselves at increased risk of something far worse happening than night waking or struggling with exercise,’ said Adjunct Professor Twomey.

“At present there is no known cure for asthma but with the right knowledge and good management, most people with asthma can lead full and active lives. This management usually includes use of medicines some of which are delivered through the use of an inhaler.

‘However, surprisingly, recent research has shown that more than 90 per cent of people with asthma do not use their inhaler correctly with the result being that they are not getting the full benefit of their medicines and may be suffering unnecessarily,’ he said.

Studies show that regardless of the type of inhaler device prescribed, patients are unlikely to use inhalers correctly unless they receive clear instruction, including a physical demonstration. The risk of misusing inhalers is particularly high in older and more debilitated patients.

‘It is important therefore to be sure that you are using an inhaler correctly and the easiest way to check this is to ask your community pharmacist who plays a pivotal role in giving you good, objective, evidence-based information about the condition,’ said Professor Twomey.

‘Your pharmacist can check that you are using the inhaler to the best possible effect and also show techniques and equipment to help improve how you are using the inhaler to manage your condition.  For some people equipment like “spacers” and “face masks” can make inhalers easier to use,’ he said.

‘Research has found that a brief verbal instruction on correct technique, with a physical demonstration, is effective when repeated over time and can improve clinical outcomes.

‘Another reason to speak to your pharmacist about your asthma management is that some medicines have been shown to trigger an asthma attack or to worsen the condition.’

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What to avoid

Professor Twomey said asthma sufferers should be careful with complementary medicines and some non-prescription medicines, including aspirin.

While aspirin-induced asthma is identified in only a small number proportion of cases, asthma sufferers may be advised to avoid aspirin and the other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines if they suffer from this form of asthma.

‘Some complementary medicines can be a problem and in particular Royal Jelly and echinacea have been identified as products best avoided by asthma sufferers,’ said Professor Twomey.

‘The Pharmacy Guild is also advocating on patients’ behalf to make it easier to get the medicines they need. For instance, at present generally you need a prescription for preventer medicines but not reliever medicines. This makes no sense and I urge patients to push for consistency,’ he said.