September 2011 Newsletter

30 September 2011

Taking action in Asthma Week is the feature of this month’s newsletter, which also includes highlights from our newly redesigned website, details of two helpful new consumer resources and a wrap-up of some of the interesting studies presented at the recent ERS Congress.

Asthma experts urge: Take action in asthma week

The first week of spring each year is also National Asthma Week and Australia’s asthma experts took the opportunity to urge the two million plus Aussies with asthma to make sure they have an up-to-date written asthma action plan.

According to National Asthma Council Australia chairman, Dr Noela Whitby, asthma prevalence in this country is relatively high and hundreds of people die unnecessary deaths from asthma each year.

“We can’t cure asthma but we can work together to stop it in its tracks,” she said.

This year’s National Asthma Week theme is: you can help someone with asthma.

And, Dr Whitby says the best way to help someone you care about who has asthma is to encourage them to use the week as a prompt to update their personal written asthma action plan.

“In the same way that daylight savings signals the time to change your smoke alarm battery, National Asthma Week is the time make a resolution to see your GP and make sure you have a current and up to date action plan,” she urged.

These written instructions help people with asthma, as well as their family, carers and neighbours, recognise how to tell if asthma symptoms are getting worse and what action to take.

“People with a written asthma action plan have better controlled asthma, fewer symptoms and fewer days off work or school because of asthma,” Dr Whitby said.

“So, what’s stopping you? There’s no better prompt than National Asthma Week to make sure you are prepared to manage your condition over the coming months, especially during the upcoming allergy season which can be particularly problematic for people with asthma,” she said.

Many GPs around Australia are now using the handy new National Asthma Council Australia ‘Z-card’ written asthma action plan templates which fold down to credit-card size, making it easy to carry in a wallet or pocket at all times.

For more information, go to Asthma Action Plans

New website launched!

We are proud to present the new National Asthma Council Australia website. Our newly designed site puts all our information about managing asthma at your fingertips, combining a fresh new look with easy-to-use navigation and search functionality.

Packed with great resources and advice, our website continues to provide reliable, useful information about asthma for people with asthma and their families, as well as a wide range of education and resources for health professionals.

People with asthma

‘Managing Asthma’ is designed to help people with asthma to lead normal, active lives.

Our range of useful information includes:

  • What you should do if you are having an asthma attack
  • Controlling your asthma
  • Written asthma action plans
  • Medications – the different asthma medicines doctors may prescribe for you
  • How-To Videos that show you how to use your asthma inhalers and allergy nasal sprays
  • Healthy living fact sheets

Go to Managing Asthma

Health Professionals

Our long-standing role in providing education and resources for health professionals managing asthma is reflected in the resources and information provided in this area.

The wide range of resources available include:

  • Asthma Management Handbook 2006
    (Note: currently available in PDF version and with References in HTML; the full HTML version is forthcoming) 
  • Asthma and respiratory education program – our popular workshop series
  • Written asthma action plans
  • Spirometry resources
  • Information papers

Go to Health Professionals

Clinical trials consumer factsheet released

A factsheet for patients providing information on clinical trials has been released by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia. The factsheet aims to provide consumers with a basic understanding of clinical trials, including the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial.

Clinical trials are medical research studies that aim to find better ways to manage a particular disease and are considered to be part of best practice medicine. The purpose of a clinical trial is to evaluate new approaches, studying how people respond and what side effects might occur as a result.

The factsheet is available online at the Consumers Health Forum website.

For more information about clinical trials in asthma and COPD, go to Asthma Trials

Better Health Channel launches iPhone app

Better Health Channel has launched a free iPhone and iPad app to help Victorians take control of their health and wellbeing anytime, anywhere.

The mobile app builds on the quality information from the award-winning Better Health Channel, by delivering only the best health and medical advice. The app delivers comprehensive, reliable and easy to understand information – all of which has been quality assured by medical experts.

The Department of Health’s Better Health Channel app enables Victorians to search, find and browse health information as well as locate an extensive range of health services.

To find out more and to download the app, visit the Better Health Channel website.

National Asthma Council Australia is a content partner of the Better Health Channel.

Latest news from the European Respiratory Society congress

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) is just completing its Annual Congress in Amsterdam. Papers of interest from the congress follow.

HRT therapy appears to increase risk of hospitalization from severe asthma attacks

Women taking postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may have an increased risk of severe asthma attacks requiring hospitalisation, scientists warn.

A new study, which was presented 27 September 2011 adds to the debate over the health effects of the drug which helps women through the menopause.

Previous studies have found a link between asthma and HRT, but this is the first to suggest that the drug can lead to severe exacerbations of asthma, which could lead to hospitalisation.

Researchers Klaus Bønnelykke from COPSAC (the COpenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood) at the Danish Pediatric Asthma Center and Zorana Jovanovic Andersen from the Danish Cancer Society recorded the intake of HRT in 23,138 women from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Cohort. They also denoted incidence of asthma hospitalisations and obtained information on participants' smoking status, occupational exposure, body mass index and whether or not they had undergone a hysterectomy to account for other factors relating to asthma incidence.

The results showed that using HRT was positively associated with asthma hospitalisations, as women were 1.3-times more likely to be admitted to hospital for an exacerbation if they were taking the drug. The risk increased the longer HRT was used and women taking the drug for longer than 10 yrs were 1.5-times more likely to require hospital treatment for asthma.

These results were also found when taking into account other conflicting factors which could lead to a severe asthma exacerbation.

Dr Klaus Bønnelykke, from COPSAC, said: "Previous research has suggested a link between asthma and female sex hormones, especially HRT. Our findings not only confirm this link, but also extend this to severe asthma exacerbations. We still need the final proof from randomised trials, but we believe that the suspicion is now so strong that it should be brought to the attention of clinicians. If a patient develops asthma or has a severe worsening of symptoms after taking HRT, they may need to stop hormone therapy altogether."

People hospitalized with asthma 'less likely to die from swine flu'

People with asthma who are admitted to hospital with pandemic influenza H1N1 (swine flu) are half as likely to die or require intensive care than those without asthma, according to new research.

The study, which was presented on 26 September 2011, found that, despite asthma being among the commonest illnesses seen in patients admitted to hospital with H1N1, people with the condition had less severe outcomes.

In general, people with asthma are at risk of developing breathing difficulties when they have an infection, such as H1N1. When the lungs of people with asthma are infected with a virus, mucus and cells move into the narrow airways. This blocks the free movement of air.

The researchers studied 1,520 patients who were admitted to 75 hospitals in 55 cities and towns in the UK with the H1N1 virus. 480 (31%) of the people studied were aged under 16 yrs old. Asthma was the most common illness, affecting 385 (25%) of all patients.

The results showed that people with asthma and H1N1 more often had shortness of breath, more need for supplemental oxygen and greater severe respiratory distress than patients with H1N1 who did not have asthma. However, overall, people with asthma were half as likely to die or require high dependency or intensive care in hospital.

The link between asthma and less severe outcomes was seen even after the researchers took into account age, presence of other illnesses, and both antiviral and antibiotic use. What did seem to make a difference was that patients with asthma came to hospital earlier in the course of their H1N1 disease than other patients with flu. Also, those patients with asthma who had less severe outcomes were on regular inhaled steroids at the time of hospitalisation and received further steroids on admission.

A mother's occupation while pregnant can cause asthma in children

In a study presented on the 26 September 2011 it was shown that mothers who are exposed to particular agents during pregnancy could give birth to children with a higher risk of asthma.

It is well known that when people are exposed to certain substances and chemicals it can cause asthma. However, there has been little research investigating whether a mother's work exposure during pregnancy can lead to asthma in their children.

This research, carried out by scientists in Denmark, included 42,696 children from the Danish National Birth Cohort and assessed the association between their mother's occupation and asthma prevalence amongst the children at the age of 7 yrs.

The main focus of the study was on the effect of low molecular weight agents, such as synthetic chemicals and natural substances. This includes those found in vehicle parts, furniture, shoe soles, paints, varnish, glues and wood-derived products.

The assessment showed that 15.8% of the cohort had asthma. Out of the children whose mothers were occupationally exposed to low molecular weight substances, 18.6 % had asthma. These results were found after other factors, such as the mothers' age and weight, smoking status, use of medication and exposure to pets, had been taken into account.

There were no significant associations with asthma found within other occupation groups.

Dr Berit Hvass Christensen, from the School of Public Health in Denmark, said: "This is the first large-scale study which has shown an association between maternal exposures during work and asthma in children. Whilst a link has been found, our results at this stage are modest and further research is needed into specific chemicals and substances to determine those that could be most harmful."

Alcohol can reduce asthma risk

Drinking alcohol in moderate quantities can reduce the risk of asthma, according to Danish researchers.

The study, which was presented on 25 September 2011, found that drinking 1–6 units of alcohol a week could reduce the risk of developing the condition.

The research examined 19,349 twins between the ages of 12 and 41 yrs of age. All participants completed a questionnaire at the start and end of the study to compare alcohol intake with the risk of developing asthma over 8 yrs.

The results showed that the lowest risk of asthma was seen in the group which had a moderate intake of alcohol, as less than 4% of those who drank 1-6 units per week developed asthma.

The highest risk of asthma was observed in people who drunk rarely or never, as they were 1.4-times more likely to develop the condition. Heavy drinkers also had an increased risk of asthma development and were 1.2-times more likely to develop asthma.

The results also suggested that a preference for beer drinking was associated with an increased risk of asthma when compared with no preference.

Previous studies have found a link between excessive intake of alcohol and asthma attacks; however, this is the first study of its kind to show a link between alcohol intake and the onset of asthma for adults over a long period of time.

Sofie Lieberoth, from the Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark, said: "Whilst excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems, the findings of our study suggest that a moderate intake of 1–6 units [a week] can reduce the risk of developing asthma. By examining all the factors linked with the development of asthma, we can understand more about what causes the condition and how to prevent it."

Research Funding Opportunities

Latest information on Asthma Research Funding available here

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Last reviewed February 2012