Asthma: Women at higher risk of attacks than men, charity says

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Image source, Poppy Hadkinson

Image caption,

Poppy Hadkinson suffered with severe asthma during puberty, from the age of 11 to 21

Women with asthma who are going through puberty, pregnancy or are menstruating, are at higher risk of severe asthma attacks, a charity report says.

The study – conducted by Asthma and Lung UK – highlights that female hormones can trigger asthma flare-ups.

It calls for more research to examine the sex-related differences in the common lung condition.

Poppy Hadkinson, 30, had regular asthma attacks and was ventilated four times during her teens.

‘I felt like I was breathing through a straw’

“It was an ongoing battle for years, since I started puberty really,” she says.

“Originally, I was given traditional treatment of inhalers, steroids, antibiotics. I tried pretty much everything but nothing was controlling it.

“I felt breathless with no reprieve for days and weeks. I felt like I was breathing through a straw.”

Image source, Poppy Hadkinson

Image caption,

Due to regular steroid use, Poppy Hadkinson suffered from ‘moon face’, a common symptom where the face puffs out.

Ms Hadkinson recalls that when she was last in intensive care in 2013, she asked her mum for “dry shampoo and a new pair of lungs”, before she was put in an induced coma for around a week.

The 30-year-old TV presenter’s asthma is now under control. She gets a monthly injection of drugs at a specialist centre for severe asthma, which she says has been life-changing.

“Within eight weeks of having the drug, my whole world changed. I am now on no other medication except two inhalers,” she says.

She found that her asthma is still worse around her periods but simply increases her inhaler use around them to help.

‘Asthmatics are more than just a number’

Ms Hadkinson hopes that women will become more aware of the link between hormone changes and asthma, adding: “There’s got to be different therapies and treatments out there that suit individuals better, not a blanket method.

“Asthmatics are more than just a number, every one is so different.”

More asthma deaths among women

There are 136 million women worldwide who suffer with asthma, with three million of those in the UK.

According to ONS figures in the report, more than 5,100 women have died from an asthma attack, compared with under 2,300 men over the past five years.

Rates of hospital admission for asthma in England are similar for girls and boys in their early teens, but more than twice as high in women from the age of 20-50, the report says.

“Asthma tends to be overlooked or dismissed,” says Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and innovation at Asthma and Lung UK.

She hopes the latest study will draw attention to the different asthma triggers in men and women.

Ms Mome Mukherjee, researcher at the University of Edinburgh, has looked at the link between sex hormones and asthma.

“There is not enough research into why women are more likely to be hospitalised and die from asthma and what treatments, new and existing, could help women,” she says.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties which can affect all ages.

  • Whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
  • Breathlessness
  • Tight chest, which may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • Coughing

For more information and guidance visit the NHS website.