Asthma is definitely not just a childhood disease. You can develop it at any age. Many women are diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 55 but, unfortunately, few women realise that they are vulnerable.
Specialists are concerned about the increased rate of severe asthma attacks in women.
According to some doctors, asthma is the great hidden women’s issue. Research in the United States shows that 75% of adults hospitalised with asthma attacks are women. Other researchers have found that since 1982, the asthma rate among adult women has almost doubled. An estimated eight million women now have the disorder and women account for 62% of asthma deaths: over 3 200 women now die each year from the condition in the United States.
What makes women more vulnerable? A great deal more research needs to be done before any clear answers or solutions can be suggested. However, in 1996, a study by Dr Emil Skobeloff, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia, revealed that women experience their worst asthma attacks during their perimenstrual days (the period beginning three days before the start of menses and ending four days afterwards).
For a year he tracked the asthma symptoms of 182 reproductive-age asthmatic women. Almost half (46%) of their severe asthma attacks (those requiring emergency-room admission) occurred during the perimenstrual phase.
The asthma-menstrual cycle link is related to changes in women’s oestrogen levels. Oestrogen falls sharply as women begin their perimenstrual days. As oestrogen levels rise, the risk of asthma falls. If you give women oestrogen and then suddenly withdraw it, they show increased airway sensitivity, a key precondition for asthma attacks. But Dr Skobeloff believes it’s still too early to prescribe oestrogen as an asthma therapy. For starters, when women take oestrogen postmenopausally, their asthma risk increases.
The role of hormones in menopause
National Asthma Education Programme (NAEP)
Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA)