Asian migrants in Australia face higher risk of asthma attacks

New details have emerged about the increased risk of critical asthma symptoms for some groups of Asian migrants during thunderstorms.

People of East or South Asian background who migrate to Australia are at higher risk of experiencing asthma attacks and other allergies, a Victorian government health report has found.   

Director of respiratory medicine at Monash University's Eastern Health Clinical School, Professor Frank Thien, was one of the scientists involved in the research.

“People of Asian origin and Indian origin coming to Australia, migrating to Australia, do have increased risk of allergies, particularly hay fever and asthma, and that risk increases with the duration of stay in Australia,” Professor Thien said. 

Extreme weather events also dramatically increased the risk.

Anna Kim Anderson first experienced an asthma attack during a thunderstorm in Melbourne eight years ago.

“I was having difficulty breathing, I felt a bit wheezy, I had a tight chest, and because I'd never had asthma before, I didn't understand what it was," Ms Anderson said.

Anna Kim Anderson experienced her first asthma attack in 2010.
Source: SBS

After that first attack in 2010, Ms Anderson suffered another during a storm in 2016. 

When she reached the hospital, she realised she wasn't alone.

"I was very low on oxygen, they took me straight into ICU. There was a whole room full of Asians and Indians who had suffered the same attack as me."

Almost 40 per cent of patients who presented to emergency rooms with asthma symptoms during the 2016 storm were born in East Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

Of the 10 people who died during the disaster, six were of East and South Asian descent.

Analysts are still unsure why these groups are more susceptible to allergies, but studies show even those born in Australia to Asian parents are more likely to develop allergies than people with non-Asian parents.

Research suggests genetic predispositions, as well as exposure to different pollens and grasses from those parts of Asia, could be major contributing factors. 

Pollen in Melbourne, 2016.
Source: AAP

With grass pollen season in Australia running from early October through December, Deputy Chief Health Officer Angie Bone urged people from East and South Asian backgrounds to be prepared.

“People can take protective actions, like making sure they've got their inhaler with them, staying indoors should a thunderstorm occur, closing the windows to stop the pollen coming inside,” Ms Bone said.

Published 29 October 2018 at 9:34pm, updated 30 October 2018 at 6:17am
By Amelia Dunn