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Asthma WA issues respiratory disease warning for Indigenous communities

David Prestipino -

Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalised for respiratory diseases compared with those living in major cities.

According to the Federal Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2023 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, 65 Indigenous people per 1,000 are hospitalised in remote areas, compared to 27 per 1,000 in cities.

Asthma WA CEO, Anne Hallam, said the numbers were concerning, urging West Australians, in particular those First Nations people living in remote regions, to pay earlier attention to their lungs.

Ms Hallam said the organisation often leant on funding sponsors to undertake regional trips, with the aim for teams to visit regional communities two to four times annually.

"We'll reach out to people in that region to come and see us. This might be for face-to-face education, yarning sessions or lung function testing," she said.

Aboriginal Health Council WA Public Health Medical Officer, Dr Caitlyn White, said chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung problems, like asthma or bronchiectasis, can make people cough a lot, get short of wind or even feel very tired.

"If you have a cough that doesn't go away, feel short of wind, cough up phlegm or blood, or feel tired or weak, see your clinic for a check-up with your health worker, nurse or doctor," she said.

Asthma WA provided free personalised support for people living with respiratory conditions, including COPD and asthma.

COPD is an umbrella term that covers emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma, with the organisation raising awareness of the disease ahead of World COPD Day on November 15.

Ms Hallam said COPD was a major leading cause of hospitalisations and deaths in Australia, with one in seven people over the age of 40 having COPD, and 7,018 people dying from the disease in 2021.

Ms Hallam said approximately 40,000 people in WA were living with COPD, but up to 50 per cent of them were unaware they had it.

The serious and progressive lung disease caused shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, with COPD sufferers having reduced quality of life and lower life expectancy.

Whilst smoking is the most common cause of COPD, other factors could also increase a person's risk of developing the condition.

"We give our clients more time to understand their condition and help them achieve better outcomes," Ms Hallam said.

Exposure to tobacco smoke and other inhaled toxic particles and gases are the main risk factors for COPD, although recent research indicates that COPD results from a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors that occur over a lifetime.

Asthma and chronic bronchitis can increase the likelihood of developing COPD.

This significant development in COPD shows the importance of considering lung health from development all the way into adulthood.

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