New Zealand’s asthma statistics are some of the worst in the world – more than 500,000 Kiwis are on medication for the condition. One in seven children is affected by asthma, and asthma is the third leading cause of death for New Zealanders. Why are New Zealand’s asthma statistics so bad?
“Our housing stock is a huge factor,” says Anne Wheat, nurse manager and educator for Asthma New Zealand. “New Zealand houses can be cold and damp. Some are insulated top and bottom, but not in the walls, or the windows are singled glazed.”
Anne and her team of asthma nurses visit asthmatic patients around New Zealand to check their homes for factors that can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
“You have to look at the home environment,” she says. “Pets, mould, pollens, cockroaches – you name it. We’re looking at where is the bed – is it under a window, is it byan external wall? Is there mould, and why?”
Wheat says air circulation is key – without it, dangerous mould can thrive – but cold winter weather can exacerbate asthma symptoms, meaning simply leaving a window open is not always an option.
When New Plymouth mum Sarah Devonport was battling to keep her daughter’s bedroom warm and dry, she says she felt not only worried, but hopeless too. Sarah’s six-year-old daughter Olivia has asthma and has used inhalers for two years.
“Usually she’d get the asthma attacks at night, when it’s coldest. She would wake up and be coughing a lot. She was wheezy and she’d have to take a breath between each word. And it wasn’t just a couple of puffs and then she felt better – we’d keep her up for hours, and stay with her, because we didn’t want to leave her alone.”
Unfortunately it’s a common nightmare that many families share.
“In the evenings it was quite scary,” says Sarah, “because our after-hours doctor is closed from 8pm. I’ve spent quite a few nights on the phone to Plunket Line, and at hospital, sometimes until 2am. My husband Anthony and I both have to get to work in the morning, so it’s exhausting for us as well as them.”
“I was opening the windows every day to get that fresh air in,” says Sarah, “but when the air is too cold that would trigger Olivia’s asthma as well.”
Things got even worse as mould began to spread from behind Olivia’s bed to the curtains and bedroom furniture. They found themselves bleaching the walls of Olivia’s bedroom regularly, to try and keep it contained.
“We were bleaching her walls every month or so. Because she’s quite little, we had the furniture bolted to the wall, so it was a lot of work.
“And then my parents put us onto a DVS. We had one when I was a child. My mum said they saw an improvement with my younger sister’s asthma at once, so when we did some renovations we decided to try it.”
The average household releases an incredible 12 litres of moisture into the air every day – from showers, cooking, plants and washing. And taking in consideration the average person breathes 7 to 8 litres of air per minute it’s easy to see how fast a unhealthy home can impact our health.
A DVS system works to control moisture and condensation. It continuously pushes out the moisture-laden, stale air, replacing it with fresher, drier air. That in turn reduces two major asthma triggers – dust mites and mould.
“One of our biggest motivations as a company is to make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing,” says DVS managing director Tony Sandes.
Sarah says the difference for Olivia and their home was immediate.
“Before the DVS, I’d go around every morning with a towel and wipe the windows – in winter we’d have condensation right to the top. Olivia’s room was the worst because she has two large windows in there.
“Olivia used to have her preventer inhaler twice a day, and her reliever inhaler once or twice a week, now she has only used her reliever inhaler once since Christmas time. Her bedroom, which was mouldy all year round beforehand – even during summer – has only been bleached once.”
Anne Wheat says controlling moisture and condensation in a home is important to ensure a healthy living environment.
“People can use their asthma medication twice a day, but that will only go so far if they’re living in cold, damp homes.”