It’s Asthma Week (1-7 September), and Asthma Australia is here to help Australians with asthma and hay fever through pollen season. We’ve partnered up with experts in their respective fields to put together helpful and practical information for each day so you can breathe easier this spring.
Red itchy eyes, sniffly noses, interrupted sleep and sore bank balance. Sound familiar?
Pollen season has arrived, and unfortunately this spells hay fever or allergic rhinitis and asthma for a huge number of Australians.
The cost of medications for hay fever and asthma can quickly add up – especially if multiple members of your family are impacted. If you or your kids are living with hay fever and asthma this pollen season, these are the medicines that might wind up in your medicine cabinet.
- Steroid nasal spray (e.g. Nasonex, Rhinocort, Flixonase Allergy and Hayfever 24Hr)
- Topical antihistamine (e.g. Zaditen eye drops, Zyrtec eye drops and/or nasal spray, Azep nasal spray)
- Oral non-sedating antihistamine (e.g. Zyrtec, Claratyne, Telfast)
- Asthma reliever medication (e.g. Asmol, Ventolin, Bricanyl Turbuhaler, Airomir Autohaler)
- Saline nasal spray (e.g. Fess, Flo)
- Preventer medication (e.g. Flixotide, Pulmicort, Qvar, Alvesco)
- Asthma combination medication (e.g. Symbicort, Seretide, Flutiform, Breo)
These common brand names are just an example, there are many more out there – just ask your pharmacist. See the TGA website for more information.
It doesn’t take long for the cost of these products to add up, making a big dent on your wallet –up to and over hundreds of dollars. And this is in on top of your visit to your doctor for prescriptions.
One Adelaide family in the Asthma Australia community knows firsthand how serious the cost of medicines can be:
“On average it would be around $100 a month, but when my son is sick as he has been lately, the cost is crazy. For prescriptions and other medical products, we have been spending in excess of $250, and that’s not even considering the GP and paediatrician appointment costs. Every time we go to the GP, we are paying a gap of around $35, and for the paediatrician a gap of around $170. And the cost doesn’t stop there – in the last three weeks my husband and I have taken a combined 13 days off work to care for our son, a cost that is often forgotten.”
Does this feel familiar to you?
Breathe easy, we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve partnered up with total legends and experts Anthony Tassone, Victorian Branch President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, community pharmacist, and co-proprietor, and Shefali Parekh, Deputy Chair of the Tasmanian Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Early Career Pharmacist Working Group to bring you the top ways you can save some money this pollen season whilst keeping hay fever and asthma at bay.
As Shefali says, “Simple measures like going into your pharmacy to have your inhaler technique assessed and enquiring whether a generic brand of your medication is available can help make health living cost-effective this spring.”
Talk about your prescriptions with your Pharmacist, your medications expert
Preventer medicines are indicated for most people with asthma. Taking this daily or twice daily to keep your asthma well managed adds up on its own, albeit saving you the cost and burden associated with poor asthma control.
Did you know a wide variety of preventers are on the market? There are affordable, effective options that could suit you, particularly if you have mild asthma. We encourage you to ask your pharmacist if there’s an alternative, more affordable or longer lasting preventer that could suit you. Pharmacists are excellent sources of information and often know more about what medications are available. That is their job after-all. Take this information as a print out to your GP and say, “the pharmacist recommended this could be another option for me…”
Anthony says: “Pharmacists are highly trained and trusted medicine experts at your local community pharmacy. You generally do not need an appointment to seek out advice from a pharmacist, and they can help explain the purposes of different medicines, make recommendations on the most appropriate option for you, and help you get the most out of your medication to manage your asthma.”
Maximise your medication intake
A spacer is a reusable item (usually around $10-20) to use with metered dose inhalers (MDIs) that gets more medication in your airways, helping you improve your asthma control and reducing your need for reliever medicines.
You should also make sure you check your device technique. Did you know up to 9 in 10 people don’t use their devices correctly? Ask your GP or pharmacist to show you the best technique to get the most out of your medication. By using the correct technique with your devices, you can make sure your medication is being deposited into your airways effectively, improving asthma control overall and potentially reducing the dose of medication you require to manage your asthma.
Did you know that some brands apply a “brand premium”, giving them a higher price than other generic alternatives? Generic brands provide the same medication without this premium. There are generic brands of several asthma and hay fever medications available. Just ask your pharmacist.
Use a steroid nasal spray (and ask your pharmacist how)
If you have hay fever, you should consider using a steroid nasal spray. These nasal sprays can be effective for controlling common symptoms of hay fever, such as runny or blocked noses and itchy eyes. And, even better, you can often find these at your local pharmacy without a prescription. It might take up to two weeks for the medicine to become fully effective, so you should start using your nasal spray now, in advance of pollen season.
Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow the steps. Better yet, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a demonstration to make sure you are using it properly!
Research the Safety Net
The PBS Safety Net is there to protect families requiring a large number of prescriptions. Once your family has spent enough on PBS-listed medications to reach the threshold in one year ($1,550.70 for general patients or $390.00 for concession card patients), you can apply for a Safety Net concession card to reduce your maximum cost of PBS-listed medication to $6.50 for the remainder of the calendar year (unless a price premium applies).
For more information on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, click here.
Apply for a Health Care Card
If you have a Health Care Card, the maximum cost of PBS-listed prescriptions is $6.50 instead of $40.30. This can make a huge difference in your ability to afford the medication you need. You might be eligible for a Health Care Card if you are a low-income earner or are looking after another person’s child.
For more information on Health Care Cards, click here.
We are very thankful to Anthony Tassone from the Pharmacy Guild and Shefali Parekh from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia for their valuable advice and assistance with the development of this guide.
Asthma Australia represents and supports the 2.7 million Australians living with asthma. To speak with an Asthma Educator call 1800 ASTHMA (1800 279 462).