Nov 2014

Asthma NZ Warns More Kiwis will Die without Better COPD Awareness

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Asthma NZ is warning Kiwis of the growing burden of COPD. Few New Zealanders are aware of the lung disease despite it being the fourth leading cause of death in this country behind heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Logo gskAsthma NZ is warning Kiwis of the growing burden of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), one it says few New Zealanders are aware of despite it being the fourth leading cause of death in this country behind heart disease, cancer and stroke.

New Zealand rates of hospitalisation due to COPD are the second highest in the OECD with the disease estimated to cost the country as much as $192 million per annum[1] – excluding loss of income or the costs to family or loss of quality of life.

COPD is a progressive, obstructive lung disease characterised by chronically poor airflow. Symptoms include frequent breathlessness and coughing and once established causes irreparable lung damage.

Executive Director of Asthma New Zealand Linda Thompson says the leading cause of COPD is smoking and is a particular concern for the Maori and Pacific Island community.

“With COPD mortality almost three times higher for M?ori aged 45 years and over than for non-M?ori[2] more needs to be done to reduce the incidence of Maori who smoke which remains as high as 42%[3].  As a society we need to do more work in raising awareness across these ethnicities to lower the mortality from this preventable disease,” she says.

Other causes of COPD include smoking cannabis, passive smoking and long term exposure to irritants in the home or workplace.

Thompson says New Zealand employers also need to realise they have a role to play by ensuring industrial workplaces are well ventilated and providing support for quit smoking programmes.

“Also those who are employed in dusty work environments such as mechanics, builders and bakers, could have an increased risk of developing COPD. Prolonged exposure to harmful substances at work, for example coal dust, silica dust and welding fumes, is also a contributing factor for COPD,” she says.

New research has also highlighted the likelihood of asthmatic children developing COPD in later life – even if they never smoke, she says.

“A new Australian study[4] has found that children with severe asthma are at an increased risk of developing COPD. This is of particular concern to New Zealand as we have the second highest rate of asthma in the world with up to one in five children affected by the chronic disease,” she says.

The warning from Asthma NZ for Kiwis to be more aware, quit smoking and if suffering from symptoms to be tested, comes as part of an awareness campaign for World COPD Day on November 19.

As part of the drive Thompson says Asthma NZ will be offering free COPD testing at its head office in Auckland and regional office in Christchurch.

The testing is conducted with spirometry devices, where patients’ (age, ethnicity, height and weight) data is entered into an electronic system, to calculate an ideal reading.

Patients then blow into the device for as long and as deeply as they can, so the amount of air expelled can be measured in litres per minute.

The device not only picks up the existence of COPD but also asthma symptoms, with those diagnosed as having symptoms referred to a GP.

Asthma NZ will also be using a simple online questionnaire designed to measure the symptomatic impact of COPD on sufferers’ everyday lives to help them assess the level of treatment patients may need[5].

Treatment options can include quitting smoking, medication and even a change in employment says Thompson.

Asthma NZ is providing free COPD and asthma testing in Auckland and Christchurch on Wednesday Nov 19th between 10am-2pm.

For more information visit http://www.asthma-nz.org.nz.

[1] National Health Committee. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Pathway to Prioritisation. March 2014. http://nhc.health.govt.nz/our-work/consultations/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-consultation

[4] Tai et al. The association between childhood asthma and adult chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thorax 2014;69:805-810 (available from: http://thorax.bmj.com/content/69/9/805.full)

[5] The COPD Assessment Test (CAT) is available at http://www.catestonline.org/.

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Fleur Revell
Fleur Revell is one of the country’s most eminent PR consultants and public relations practitioners with more than 20 years industry experience behind her. Fleur is also a three times Qantas Media Awards winner and Feature Writer of the Year; and has an exceptional working knowledge of the New Zealand media landscape and its accelerating evolution in the digital age.
Asthma NZ Warns More Kiwis will Die without Better COPD Awareness
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