May 4 marks World Asthma Day and this year that's more important to me than it ever has been.
Recently I became aware my toddler has a severe dust mite allergy which has been causing him a lot of discomfort.
As explained on Allergy NZ's website, asthma can be a symptom of dust mite allergy, as is eczema, sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, a scratchy throat and puffy, swollen eyelids.
It's nasty stuff.
If you or your little one are suffering some of those symptoms, a dust mite allergy may be to blame and you'd best start working to alleviate it.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand (ARFNZ) Chief Executive Letitia Harding says it's important to try to identify the allergen affecting your asthma, so you can avoid or minimise exposure to it.
"One in eight adults and one in seven children have asthma in Aotearoa, and around 70-80 percent of those people have an associated allergy," Harding tells Newshub.
"We call them 'atopic individuals': people who have an underlying genetic tendency, and one of the most common allergens is in the faecal waste produced by dust mites. During a dust mite's life cycle of 65-100 days, they will produce around 2000 faecal pellets. It is the protein in these pellets that exacerbates or brings on sneezing.
"Dust mites are everywhere, and we all have them in our homes in soft furniture, carpets, mattresses, and pillows. They are microscopic, and their faeces, which are small and light, get into the air easily and can provoke a strong allergic response when inhaled, which can trigger asthma in some people."
The Allergy & Asthma Network outlines the following tips for managing a dust mite allergy:
- Reduce humidity in your home to below 50 percent
- Cover bedding with dust-mite-proof encasings
- Wash all of your bed linens weekly in hot water
- Vacuum regularly with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter or bag
- Replace dust collectors like carpets, drapes and upholstered furniture with washable floors and furnishings
- Keep dolls and toys to a minimum in the bedroom and choose stuffed animals that can be washed in hot water
After learning of my son's dust mite allergy, I've taken some of these steps and they've quickly resulted in the easing of symptoms. But they're not easy steps to take - they involve spending money, along with lots and lots and lots of housework.
We declared war on dust in our home, especially the room he sleeps in. That meant firstly buying those special dust-mite-proof mattress and pillow covers described above, which were on special at Briscoes (when is anything not?), along with a new hypoallergenic duvet inner.
Of course we're washing all the bedding in hot water once a week, but that's just the start. We've also taken down the curtains, washed them and air dried them for hours, along with painstakingly cleaning every surface in the room - including the ones up high that are hard to reach like on top of the wardrobe, and behind the big shelves that never normally move.
Fortunately we already had an air purifier, dehumidifier and powerful Dyson vacuum - but we've ramped up how much all of those are used to new highs.
It's a lot, but it is getting results. My boy is coughing and waking up less at night, and he's not rubbing his red little puffed up eyes nearly as often, which is very satisfying.
I only wish we'd found out about his allergy sooner.
May the 4th, also known as Star Wars Day, may seem like an odd day to acknowledge asthma - but CEO of Asthma New Zealand Katheren Leitner explains there is very much a connection.
"Darth Vader's familiar sound is actually very much like an asthmatic wheeze and is something Kiwis should be looking out for," she says.
"By knowing what to look out for - in ourselves and others - we can better manage the health of Kiwis and reduce unnecessary hospitalisation. Our goal at Asthma New Zealand is to have New Zealanders breathe easy.
"Our message to New Zealanders is to take our breathing seriously."
And we really should take it seriously - the following are some very sobering numbers.
Asthma New Zealand facts:
- New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world
- More than 700,000 Kiwis live with asthma and respiratory illness
- Respiratory disease accounts for one in ten of all hospital stays in Aotearoa
- Respiratory disease is New Zealand's third leading cause of death
If someone you care for has asthma and is not living well because of it, you can call 0800 227 328 to arrange for an Asthma NZ Nurse to provide education and support.