An expert is calling for asthma to be taken more seriously after the disease killed 10 people and saw more than 250 seek help at hospital in Taranaki last year.
A recent report shows the incidence of asthma in Taranaki is among the highest in the country.
More than 19 per cent of Taranaki children have asthma, almost 5 per cent higher than the national average, according to the Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand report published by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.
Statistics from the Taranaki District Health Board show 29 children and 254 adults were admitted to Taranaki Base Hospital in the last year. Figures for the previous five years are similar.
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Better management of the condition could have saved some of the 70 people who died in New Zealand last year, Associate Professor Jim Reid from Otago University said.
“Management is the thing we are pushing, some of these deaths are preventable, although not always. People have a very poor assessment of how severe their asthma is.”
One death that was not preventable was that of 10-year-old Ethan Kowalewski who suffered a massive asthma attack in Hawera on December 18.
The treatment he received had little effect and he died in his mother’s arms two days later in Starship Hospital in Auckland.
Ethan’s family knew how serious his condition was, but others may underestimate how bad their asthma is.
When surveyed by researchers, many people thought their asthma was well controlled even though they were having to use their inhaler several times daily, yet effective use of preventative medication should mean using an inhaler much less often, such as twice a week, Reid said.
“I think because asthma is so common, people have become a bit cavalier about it, it seems like every kid on the block has it, so it tends to get minimised.”
He urged people to use an Asthma Control Test to assess their symptoms.
“We are very keen on the asthma control test, which can be done online or by your doctor or practice nurse. The other thing is to have a written management plan,”
“It may be that the doctors in the region have a lower threshhold to diagnose asthma or they may be more asthma aware, there could be another reason we don’t know about. In some regions, like the Far North, it can be due to ethnicity. I don’t really have an answer for you,” he said.
Taranaki DHB clinical nurse manager – child and maternal health, Leigh Cleland, said the higher incidence of asthma could be environmental.
“It could also be due to greater recognition/diagnosis of asthma in Taranaki, which is reflected in the data captured,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hawera toddler Brearna Moody was just nine months old when she got her first episode of what was eventually diagnosed as asthma.
She had six bouts in three months, once ending up at Taranaki Base Hospital for treatment, before her doctor diagnosed her with asthma, her mother Amanda said.
“My dad, brother and sister have all got asthma, but I don’t,” Moody said. “They all grew out of it, so the prognosis for her is good.”
Brearna, now 20 months old, has twice daily doses of an asthma preventer every day which controlled it well apart from when she had a cold.
This week she had another bout of asthma.
“She came down with a cold on Saturday, it always starts with a cold,” Moody said. “On Sunday she was coughing and Sunday night she started wheezing. By Monday morning she was and struggling to breathe so we went to A and E.”
There, she was given three doses of medication with a nebuliser and some steroids.
After three days of being tucked up for naps in her stroller and car seat (to keep her upright) and a trip to hospital, she’s getting back to her normal lively self.
Moody said the illness was frightening for a parent to watch, particularly after reading stories of other children who had died of asthma.
“There’s nothing worse than watching your baby struggling with their breathing.”