Media Releases

Women most likely to die from asthma - older women urged to take extra care

16 Nov 2016

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that women aged over 55 continue to be most at risk of dying from asthma and need to take extra care in managing their condition.

Over half of the 421 asthma-related deaths recorded in Australia (59%) in 2015 were women over 55 years, with women aged 75 years and older recording nearly three times (2.7) the number of deaths than men of the same age.1

The data highlights the need for mid-life and older women not to let asthma take a backseat to other conditions as asthma deaths are largely preventable, said the National Asthma Council Australia.

Dr Jonathan Burdon AM, Chair of the National Asthma Council Australia and respiratory physician, said there is no doubt that asthma impacts women over 55 much more than men of the same age and they need to take steps to manage their condition.

According to a recent study, older women with asthma have a 17% higher risk of death compared with other women of the same age.2 This increased risk remains after age, demographic factors, comorbidities, risk factors, residential area and social support have been considered.

 “Many women do not realise the potential seriousness of the condition because it is so common. They may not make asthma care a priority, even though older women with asthma often have worse health outcomes,” said Dr Burdon.

“This is a concern, especially given Australia’s ageing population, as there are growing numbers of older people developing asthma which can be more severe and harder to treat in the elderly.” “By getting their asthma under control, older women are more likely to be able to enjoy a full and active life.”

“The new data shows that women with asthma aged 55 to 74 were more than twice as likely to die compared to their male counterparts, while those over 75 years were almost three times more likely to die from asthma than men of the same age. This is despite the prevalence of asthma sitting at around 9% for men and 13% for women.”

Dr Burdon said that there was no definitive answer as to why older women were more affected by asthma, but various studies suggest there are likely a combination of factors – diagnostic, biological, lifestyle, societal and environmental.

“We know that women have slightly higher prevalence rates for asthma, but we don’t have conclusive evidence as to why women are dying from asthma at two to three times the rates of men.  This general trend is seen throughout the world.

“Every death is a tragedy.  Asthma can be controlled with asthma preventer and reliever medication and by following an up-to-date asthma action plan, prepared with your doctor,” Dr Burdon advised.

Action steps for Australians with asthma are:

  • Don’t ignore or dismiss breathing problems
  • See your doctor for regular asthma check-ups
  • Follow an up-to-date asthma action plan
  • Ask your pharmacist to show you exactly how to use your inhaler correctly
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist about other medicines you are taking
  • Quit smoking and avoid other people’s tobacco smoke
  • Each winter get your flu shot (it’s free for people over 65)

Asthma deaths in Australia have dropped significantly over the years, from a peak of 964 deaths in 1989 to the latest 2015 toll of 421 comprising 278 females and 143 males. The number of children and young people (24 years and under) dying from asthma has also continued to fall and is now less than half of what it was in 2012 (from 24 down to 14 in 2015).

Two and a half million Australians have asthma, which affects one in 10 children and adults. It is one of this country's most common and costly diseases. In 2015, the total cost of asthma to the Australian economy was $27.9 billion.3,2

Note to editors: Causes of Death, Australia, 2015 has been released approximately six months earlier than previous reports, providing more timely access to Australian mortality data. Key factors which have influenced the decision to publish data earlier include ongoing improvements to coding practices and more timely availability of key reports on the National Coronial Information System. 

Media enquiries

For further information, or to arrange an interview with a National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson, please contact: 

Lelde McCoy
The Reputation Group
Mob: 0417 362 768  

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics Report on Causes of Death, Australia, 2015 (asthma-related deaths).
  2. Eftekhari et al. Impact of asthma on mortality in older women: An Australian cohort study of 10,413 women. Respir Med 2016; 119: 102–108. E-pub 30 Aug 2016.
  3. The Hidden Cost of Asthma by Deloitte Access Economics for Asthma Australia and National Asthma Council Australia, November 2015.