Respiratory illness in a child

Family Health Diary

I remember ‘back in the day’ as a student nurse at Middlemore in the 1980s being astounded at the amount of respiratory illnesses on the medical wards, particularly asthma in the younger patients and smoking related respiratory illnesses in the older ones.

This blog isn’t an exercise in comparing numbers then and now. I’m not sure how the numbers actually stack up, and it might have been more that it was something I was not familiar with, having not had asthma in our family, or knowing anybody with it growing up. Because it was something I really only discovered in a hospital setting the people I saw were pretty sick, but those illnesses must have been in our community for sure, but I venture, perhaps to a lesser extent.

Certainly these days, even if you personally are not affected by a respiratory illness, it seems far more prevalent. Maybe that in part is simply that we talk about health more, media is ubiquitous and health care is more proactive. All that aside, I went searching for a quick fix on the NZ numbers at a glance to get a handle on them.

The NZ Asthma Foundation states that respiratory disease account for one in eight of all hospital stays in our country, one in seven children have asthma, and one in six people have respiratory illnesses – that’s anything from asthma and bronchiolitis to sleep apnoea and COPD and more. Those numbers seem pretty high to me, and in fact we apparently have the second highest prevalence of asthma in the world (after the UK). Not a great record NZ and no doubt for a variety of reasons one could write an essay on.

All that aside, your ability to breathe is a fundamental part of your health – without adequate oxygenation, the cornerstone of your health is surely compromised. This isn’t intended to be a ‘what you can do’ about respiratory health column (it isn’t long enough for that).  It’s more a chance to think about being proactive to try and arrest anything before it gets worse, if there are such challenges with your health – particularly with the little ones.

I remember one of my children having croup and another bronchiolitis. Sad, sick wee things they were – utterly miserable at times, and as a mum it was awful to see them so unwell.  The bronchiolitis bubby was breastfed and in a warm, smoke free home – three things that were usual suspects in aiding the cause for bronchiolitis. The toddler with croup barked a horrible cough which got worse when upset or at night – often that happened together. On both occasions it was life as we knew it on hold to keep a small person as happy and comfortable as possible while the virus took its course and we came out the other end.

If you, or a child in your life has a respiratory illness – take it seriously and get medical help to be as proactive as you can. Of course that is easy said, but can be challenging for many, and on many fronts.

Bottom line (literally) is that being able to breathe easy is basic stuff for a body, and a core building block of health.  We do it about 15,000 times a day, every day, so it’s good if it’s easy to do.

Watch the short video story below, from the Raising Children site. And if you want some top tips on common childhood respiratory illnesses check it out here. (It will ask you to sign up – it’s free to do so and unlocks all 100+ video stories on parenting in the first decade of life).


Written by Jude Dobson

Plus the Asthma Foundation has a wealth of information about keeping Kiwi lungs in good shape at

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