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UC researching issues facing asthma sufferers

UC researching issues facing more than 600,000 NZ asthma sufferers

May 13, 2013

New Zealand has one of the highest asthma prevalence rates among developed countries. About 130 New Zealanders die each year because of asthma attacks.

The Asthma Foundation of New Zealand says the direct medical cost to the country of treating asthma has been estimated at $125 million a year and, indirectly, $700 million a year. Maori and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented in asthma prevalence and severity statistics. Maori are four times more likely to die from asthma than non-Maori.

Today is the start of Asthma Awareness Week and the University of Canterbury (UC) has a team of researchers looking at some of the problems associated with asthma in New Zealand.

UC health sciences associate professor Kathleen Liberty says: ``We are not sure why New Zealand has the second highest prevalence of asthma in the world after the United Kingdom. Possible factors include diet, climate, immunisation rates, economic conditions, community health care standards, antibiotic use in early childhood and the timing and number of respiratory infections in early life.

``We know one in six New Zealand adults and one in four of children experience asthma symptoms, making a total of more than 600.000 sufferers. Hospital admission rates for asthma have more than doubled in the past 30 years.

``Our researchers at UC are especially looking at how asthma affects children in schools. One project found that children with asthma were far more likely than children without asthma to have difficulty learning to read in the first year of school.

``One hypothesis about how asthma might affect reading in young children concerned the effect that breath control might have on reading. This current project is studying the relationship between children's breathing and beginning reading, comparing children with and without asthma.

``The pilot study has indicated that, as reading becomes more difficult, the children with asthma find their breathing changes and they have to stop reading to catch their breath. These children stop reading at places where children who do not have breathing problems do not have to stop.

``This might be one reason that children with asthma may have difficulty reading. It is one more way that asthma affects children, and we are keen, through our research to hopefully find some helpful answers to this problem, as asthma can affect up to 25 percent of children,’’ Associate Professor Liberty says.

A UC study of New Zealand hospital admissions from 2000 to 2009 showed the Canterbury district health area had the highest number of asthma-related admissions follow by Waitemata, Auckland, south Canterbury, Northland, West Coast, Bay of Plenty, Counties-Manukau, Tairawhiti, Otago, Whanganui, Waikato, Wellington, Lakes, Southland, MidCentral (Palmerston North area), Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Nelson Marlborough.


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