While one in nine Australians has asthma – 2.7 million people – a smaller proportion has severe asthma. This is estimated at three to 10 percent.

Severe asthma symptoms

People with severe asthma experience the same symptoms as people with mild to moderate asthma, however, these asthma symptoms may be more intense or occur more often.

Severe asthma symptoms remain uncontrolled despite high-dose treatment or can only be controlled with continual high-dose treatment. This means they are more at risk of flare-ups, severe attacks, and persistent symptoms. Symptoms can include:

  • breathlessness
  • wheezing
  • feeling tight in the chest
  • continuing cough

People with severe asthma will use many of the same preventer and reliever medicines used by people with mild to moderate asthma. However, people with severe asthma do not respond as well to these commonly prescribed asthma medications, and often require additional treatment options.

Severe asthma is likely to be caused by several factors, but research has yet to determine exactly why some people develop this severe form of asthma. Asthma is more likely to become severe in people with asthma who are older, or who are smokers. Sometimes asthma becomes more severe after a respiratory infection.

It is not normal to have ongoing frequent asthma symptoms.

Learn more about severe asthma symptoms here.

Diagnosing severe asthma

Severe asthma is only diagnosed by a doctor after medical investigations and testing. 

It is important that uncontrolled asthma is thoroughly investigated. This means that your treating health professional will review that your diagnosis of asthma is correct and accurate, that your treatment is relevant to the type of asthma you have, and that you are taking your prescribed treatment and using your devices properly. It should also include reviewing and managing the other things that affect your asthma, like allergies, other long term conditions, and exposure to triggers and lifestyle and social factors.  

If despite managing all of these factors your asthma continues to be poorly controlled and you experience frequent flare-ups, it is likely and recommended that your GP refer you to a specialist.

Learn more about diagnosing severe asthma here. 

Treating Severe Asthma

Severe asthma is not the same for everyone, so finding the right treatment options may take time and will differ from person to person.

The goal of asthma treatment, like most medical treatment, is to achieve the best possible level of asthma control with the lowest amount of treatment. People with severe asthma tend to have more symptoms or flare-ups even when taking the highest recommended level of preventer treatment. They may need the highest recommended level of preventer treatment continuously to control their asthma. At this point, a referral to a specialist is recommended.

Learn more about treating severe asthma here.

Living with Severe Asthma

Healthtalk Australia recently conducted qualitative research on living with severe asthma. They interviewed 35 people about their experience with severe asthma from all around Australia, including regional areas.

In their video interviews available on the Healthtalk Australia Severe Asthma section they talk to each person about how severe asthma affects them – the emotional burden, challenges of everyday life, personal relationships, what they value out of their interactions with healthcare providers and how the medication affects them.

Additional therapies such as Monoclonal Antibodies Biologicals

More people living with severe asthma will be able to access life-changing, injectable asthma drugs called Biologics Therapies following an announcement under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).  For people with diagnosed severe asthma, they can ask their GP about accessing Biologics Therapies. They will need to be referred to a specialist to be considered for Biologics.

Learn more about Biologics here.

Access the new Severe Asthma and COVID-19 resource on MAb – based care for consumers, pharmacists, and health professionals here.