'Smoker's cough' sufferers urged to get health check

Alan Conlon
Alan Conlon

Chronic lung disease is set to become the world's third biggest killer in the next 15 years, and a New Zealand expert says more needs to be done to improve diagnosis.

Alan Conlon is on oxygen almost 24 hours a day. For him, it's a battle just to breathe.

"I'm not too bad at the moment but sometimes every breath is a major exercise - things like getting changed is a major exercise," says Mr Conlon.

He knew something was wrong 10 years ago when he found himself suddenly struggling for air, but admits the warning signs had been there.

"[I had] what they called a smoker's cough for quite a few years prior to that and I just brushed that to one side because in my generation, smoking was quite the acceptable thing."

His days of smoking a pipe are long gone, but the damage has already been done.

Mr Conlon is one of around 200,000 New Zealanders suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

New Zealand currently has among the highest prevalence in the OECD.

"It's a compilation of diseases that we used to call emphysema or chronic bronchitis," says Dr Robert Young of Auckland City Hospital.

It's expected to be the third leading cause of death in New Zealand by 2030, and experts are calling for earlier diagnosis.

"About 70 percent of patients that have COPD are not yet diagnosed with COPD and that's primarily because they have not yet untaken simple blowing tests, what we call spirometry from their GPs," says Dr Young.

Mr Conlon doesn't want others to ignore the warning signs.

"If you've got that smoker's cough, get in and get it checked," he says.

Experts say the sooner it's diagnosed, the better the chance of stopping it.

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