In New Zealand, over 600 000 people have asthma – this includes an estimated 1 in 7 children and 1 in 9 adults who take asthma medication.

Asthma is also one of the most common causes of hospital admissions among New Zealand children.

Many people regard asthma as a mild disease that causes the odd episode of wheezy breathing and are surprised to learn that asthma can kill.  For at least 52 families in New Zealand this year, asthma will be tragically memorable.

Next week (31 August – 6 September) is Asthma Awareness Week. Asthma Awareness Week coincides with the start of spring, a time when many struggle with their asthma.

Asthma affects people in different ways.  Some people have asthma symptoms most of the time and forget how it feels to be well.  Others have asthma symptoms every few weeks, and some are so well controlled that they hardly ever experience symptoms at all.

Te Hiku Hauora’s mobile nursing team provide an Asthma and Respiratory service. This service, led by registered nurse Marlene Sexton, provides free education, treatment, monitoring and support for all those with asthma and respiratory conditions.

“We help our clients and their whanau understand their respiratory conditions, inhalers and medications, develop individual care plans with whanau involvement and provide access to health programmes and services which will assist them in achieving their goals.”

Marlene says this year has already been a busy one.

“Many of the tamariki registered within my service that I have not seen for a year or two appear to be re-presenting back to their GP with asthma. This is a concern due to many choosing to use their old inhaler medication without seeing their GP first, which may have expired or may no longer be suitable for their asthma.  This means each child having to be reassessed, ensuring they are on the right asthma medication then updating their asthma management plan to suit their needs.”

Marlene regularly visits schools within our rohe, ensuring that each kura (school) has an Asthma Register, Asthma First Aid poster and an asthma emergency kit.

The majority of schools in Tai Tokerau are Asthma Friendly Schools. That means they are a school that identifies children with asthma when they enrol at the school, whose staff are educated in asthma safety and has an asthma policy and maintains a smoke free environment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“The risks of an asthma attack happening at these schools are greatly reduced, along with less absenteeism due to asthma and fuller student participation in physical activities” says Marlene.

“Kids with asthma are often kept on the side lines because their asthma is not managed.  If everyone is more informed, it is much more likely that kids with asthma will be able to take part in physical activities.”