Life is going to become a bit easier for Australians with severe uncontrolled asthma next year, as the government introduces a new subsidy scheme for asthma drugs.
It means treatments that currently cost patients up to $21,000 a year will become much, much cheaper.
The drugs help more than one in three asthma sufferers who have uncontrolled symptoms despite using puffers, the Daily Telegraph reports.
From February, a script for Spiriva Respimat will cost just $6.20 for people with a concession card.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said despite the availability of several asthma medicines on the PBS, many patients still experience uncontrolled symptoms.
Spiriva Respimat can help open airways, improve breathing and reduce the likelihood of asthma flare-ups or exacerbations in those people.
“Spiriva Respimat is an important medication for adult patients with severe uncontrolled asthma who, despite taking daily maintenance treatments, continue to experience symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath,” she said.
Another asthma medicine, Nucala, was added to the PBS on January 1.
This listing is expected to benefit more than 370 patients, who would otherwise pay more than $21,000 a year for treatment.
It will cost the government about $25 million over four years to add Nucala to the PBS.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic long-term diseases and affects about 2.5 million Australians.
“These drugs will really make a difference for the 20 to 40 per cent of asthmatics who need extra help and extra medication, for whom the normal daily treatments don’t work very well,” Ms Ley said.
How does asthma differ among patients?
Although the condition known as asthma is often described by one single word, sufferers experience a whole range of symptoms that vary from person to person.
According to Asthma Australia, people with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers that may not bother other people, such as:
- Allergens including dust mites, pollens, mould and rodents
- Respiratory illnesses including colds, sinus infections or pneumonia
- Irritants in the air including dust, pollution or cigarette smoke
- Sudden weather changes, dry wind or cold air
- Strong emotions such as anger, excitement, laughter or fear
- Some medicines
- Sulfites in food
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
- Other medical problems such as reflux.
While there is no cure for asthma, in most cases it can be controlled. When a person’s asthma is well managed, it can mean they have no symptoms at all or only very occasional symptoms.
Generally, treatment falls into two categories: symptom relievers and preventers. Not everyone responds to the preferred option, which is a preventative medication.
Preventers aim to reduce the underlying inflammation in the airways. These treatments can reduce a person’s sensitivity to irritants and therefore lower the risk of asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks.
Inhaled corticosteroids (steroid hormones) are the most common preventative treatments. However, some children can have their asthma controlled with an oral tablet called montelukast.
For those who need extra help, symptom relievers including Ventolin and Asmol use inhalers to relax the muscle of the airways. This will allow them to open up during an asthma flare-up or attack.
What causes asthma?
The reality is we don’t really know what causes asthma. Some research has shown that the following factors can increase the risk of developing asthma:
- Exposure to tobacco smoke, especially as a baby or young child
- Some workplace chemicals
- It is also true that people with asthma often have a family history of asthma, eczema and hayfever.