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Asthma deaths linked with social, psychosocial issues

Asthma deaths in Australia are linked with social and psychosocial issues, drug and alcohol use, and poor health literacy, said a study published in the British medical journal Open.

Asthma Mortality in Australia in the 21st Century looked at asthma deaths between 2005 and 2009.

The first study to report asthma deaths across Australia, it revealed that asthma-related health literacy needs to be improved especially among those with episodic asthma.

Lead author Dr Di Goeman, senior research fellow at the RDNS Institute, said among those aged under 70 years, identified risk factors associated with asthma deaths include physical barriers such as rural and remote location as well as institutionalised care. Psychosocial issues linked to asthma deaths include social disengagement, mental illness, living alone, and being unemployed.

Other factors are smoking, drug and alcohol dependence, allergies and respiratory tract infections.

The report called for a case control study of asthma deaths in Australia that will investigate deaths across all age groups, the circumstances surrounding the deaths, the management of fatal attacks, and the quality of care in the preceding 12 months.

Goeman said focus on practice and policy are needed aside from interventions at a personal level to improve asthma-related health literacy.

“Our study provides a current assessment of death from asthma across Australia. Further reductions in the rate of asthma deaths will require interventions targeted at the personal, practice and policy levels,” she said.

“Reforms are also needed to address inequity in healthcare delivery to ‘reach the unreached’. Our study points to the dangers associated with smoking, drug and alcohol use and the consequences of delay in seeking care among those with asthma.”

“E-Health technologies should also be considered as a means of delivering education and advice to those living in areas where geographical distance is problematic.”

She said health professionals working in primary care settings need to ensure that all patients, not just those with moderate to severe asthma, receive comprehensive asthma education, a written asthma action plan and advice about the potential risk of delay in seeking care.

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