Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023


World Asthma Day

7:45 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak about asthma and the 2.7 million Australians sufferers. World Asthma Day was on 2 May. It's an annual global awareness day for asthma led by the Global Initiative for Asthma. One in nine people in Australia suffer from asthma. This is amongst the highest rates of the condition in the world. Asthma affects people of all ages, from adolescence to adulthood, and it can appear at all ages and stages of life. The most common type of allergy that overlaps with asthma is allergic rhinitis, also known as hayfever. So spring is a trigger for asthma. And we all know that Canberra is almost the capital of hayfever in the country, so it's only relevant for me to be talking about it here today in the Senate. The cooler months also trigger asthma, with more wood smoke and pollutants in the air.

About 80 per cent of people with asthma also have hayfever. Both create sensitivities in your airways. Asthma creates sensitive lungs, while hayfever is in the nose. For most sufferers, the symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and tightness of the chest—this is because the airways are narrowed temporarily. Your nose is interconnected, so hayfever can trigger asthma. Treating hayfever well is one of the best ways to improve your asthma condition. People with asthma often experience their symptoms at night, early in the morning or after activities. It can be a vicious cycle and can have lifelong complications. Not being able to engage in high-intensity exercise can have life altering consequences.

Most people with asthma can live a normal life with correct diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of the condition, and that's the key: to have a proper and accurate diagnosis. An asthma plan can be set out in a document that will take advantage of medication that is available and also treat other symptoms, ensuring that you can lead the fullest life that you can. That's why your GP and other medical professions are so important to ensure that you have a good action plan.

There is no definite reason as to why people suffer from asthma, but we do know research is so important for this condition, and we know that there is a genetic factor in play. Most often people with asthma have a family history of asthma, eczema or hayfever. Australia's world-leading researchers are continuing to investigate the causes and treatments for the prevention of asthma. It's believed that environmental factors also play a key role. Exposure to tobacco smoke, especially as a young child or as a baby, and obesity are all triggers for developing asthma. The rest of the world also suffer from this condition. In fact, the majority of the burden of asthma morbidity and mortality occurs in low- and middle-income countries. In parts of the world suffering from poor healthcare access, this leads to higher rates of conditions and people suffering with asthma.

But I recently met with Asthma Australia and the branch in Tasmania. The Tasmanian branch is undertaking a project to discover how Tasmanians are actually living with asthma. Through the asthma discovery survey, Asthma Australia is seeking to know what life is like for Tasmanians experiencing breathing problems and asthma across the state. This will build a more detailed and consumer based picture of local community responses to asthma care, and that will help my fellow Tasmanians. The aim of the project is to have a better understanding of the experience of people living with asthma in Tasmania—to determine the current gaps, identified problems, challenges and potential solutions—gathering insights into what is needed and how best we can resolve and help people living with this condition. The better health outcomes that we have for more Tasmanians is a better outcome for Australians generally and it is better for our economy. But what we need to do is learn to ensure that people are diagnosed and that they are able to understand and fully implement their action plan to address their asthma condition. (Time expired)

Senate adjourned at 19:50


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