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Asthma – underrated killer

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

Three people are killed and more than 70 are hospitalised each year in Wairarapa because of asthma.

Now, urgent action is being called upon by one of the country’s leading experts on the disease.

Recent data from the Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand report shows almost one in five Wairarapa children suffer with the respiratory disease, four per cent higher than the national average.

The report also found significant socioeconomic differences in asthma hospitalisation with rates 3.7 times higher among those living in poverty.

Asthma is an inflammatory respiratory condition which causes sensitivity of the airways.

The disease is characterised by symptoms of shortness of breath and wheezing and can be exacerbated during cold and flu season.

Wairarapa District Health Board Chief Medical Officer Tom Gibson said asthma was a significant problem in the region, and was one of the top three presentations in the emergency department at Wairarapa Hospital.

He said an initiative that appears to have helped in Wairarapa is Whaiora’s Ha Ngawiri (Breathe Easy) programme, which aims to increase health literacy and encourage whanau to be self-managing with a healthy lifestyle

“The workshops promote awareness of worsening signs and symptoms, as well as the importance of physical activity, good nutrition and a having smoke-free home,” Dr Gibson said.

“Important areas for helping reduce the burden of respiratory illness, particularly in young children, include good warm housing and a smoke-free environment.

“Even if parents and family only smoke outside it still can have a negative effect on children’s health.

“If a warm, smoke-free home is provided, the incidence of respiratory symptoms will reduce.”

Associate Professor Jim Reid from Otago University is a child asthma researcher and leading expert on the disease.

He said New Zealanders had become “cavalier” about asthma because it was so common.

“It seems like every kid on the block has it, so it tends to get minimised, but last year 70 people died from asthma,” he said.

“We have still got one of the highest incidences of asthma in the world and at times up to 10-15 per cent of the population suffer from asthma.”

Professor Reid said the key to getting the nation’s asthma burden under control was through an Asthma Control Test (ACT) carried out at a doctor’s surgery or pharmacy.

He said, along with poor control, many asthma sufferers did not seek help and sometimes ignored their own and their children’s symptoms.

“If asthma is not controlled over a long period of time, the lungs can ‘remodel’, leading to scarring of the airways, and this can become permanent so these people end up wheezing all the time.”

More information on the Asthma Control Test can be found here https://www.asthmacontrol.co.nz.

1 COMMENT

  1. To help provide better health and living, Masterton hospital needs to care more about their patients health and re-assess their nurses and doctors in ED. The amount of times they send children/adults away when they present with asthma attack/breathing difficulties is horrible! Our youngest son of four is now 2.5years, he has asthma and a irreversible lung disease. Now due to his conditions he needs closer observation when sick or has even mild asthma attacks. Twice since his diagnosis we’ve presented to masterton ED with shortness of breathe, and both times were sent home with a child who couldn’t breathe because the nurses in ED have absolutely no knowledge of his disease! Now, if this problem needs to be addressed in the wairarapa (which I would love to see), maybe start where the so called experts are at Masterton Hospital.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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