easy Breathe

Asthma af­fects one in four New Zealand chil­dren – one of the high­est rates in the world. Here’s how to avoid it, and other re­s­pi­ra­tory ail­ments.

Element - - Natural Parenting - by Yvonne Kerr

Jo Stred­der, Auck­land mother of three boys, says she pan­icked when her el­dest, Lucca, suf­fered his first “wheez­ing episode” at 21 months and was rushed to hospi­tal. Now six years old, he seems to have grown out of his asthma – for now. “We still have a puffer (in­haler) on hand but, touch wood, he’s not had an at­tack for 18 months,” Jo says.

Now her youngest – Ja­cob (15 months) – poses a new prob­lem. He has been in hospi­tal three times in the past six months with an in­flam­ma­tion of the bron­chi­oles in his lungs, called bron­chi­oli­tis. This of­ten af­fects young chil­dren as their small air­ways can be­come blocked more eas­ily than those of older kids or adults. Jo is un­sure of what’s ahead, and the dif­fi­culty here is that doc­tors are hes­i­tant to di­ag­nose asthma be­fore the age of two.

It’s a sce­nario played out in New Zealand more than in any other coun­try be­sides the UK–we have the sec­ond high­est preva­lence of asthma in the world.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 600,000 asthma sufferers in NZ – that’s 1 in 4 chil­dren and 1 in 7 adults, ac­cord­ing to nurse man­ager Ann Wheat at Asthma NZ. This does not take into ac­count any other re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses.

The ev­i­dence for New Zealand’s high rates of re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­ness points to our hous­ing stock – much of it damp and colder than rec­om­mended by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Those con­di­tions cre­ate mould Pho­tos: and Ted air­borne Baghurst spores. Other fac­tors in­clude dust and dust mites, smoke and chem­i­cals from con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als and house­hold prod­ucts.

A 2012 re­port in the NZ Med­i­cal Jour­nal found higher hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion rates for Maori and Pa­cific chil­dren and those liv­ing in de­prived neigh­bour­hoods when it came to re­s­pi­ra­tory tract in­fec­tions in chil­dren younger than two years old. They listed three causes – ex­po­sure to sec­ond­hand smoke, no source of heat­ing and over­crowd­ing (liv­ing with four or more chil­dren).

To tackle the prob­lem of in­su­la­tion a to­tal of 69,000 state prop­er­ties owned or man­aged by Hous­ing NZ, $76m was in­vested in an En­ergy Ef­fi­cient Retro­fit Pro­gramme from 2009-2013 – 48,034 state houses were in­su­lated na­tion­wide.

The Govern­ment has al­lo­cated $348m since 2009 in the Warm Up: Heat Smart scheme, in­su­lat­ing 235,000 homes. Fund­ing runs out this year but a new scheme, Warm Up: Healthy Homes started in 2013 is tar­get­ing 46,000 low­in­come house­holds at higher risk of health is­sues – with a budget of $100m.

The med­i­cal costs of asthma are es­ti­mated by the Min­istry of Health at $1200 per day to treat a child in hospi­tal for asthma, while the eco­nomic bur­den has been con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated at $800m per year.

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