A University of Otago report showed asthma in Whanganui to be the highest in the country killing around six and hospitalising more than 160 locals each year.

The report, conducted for the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, showed asthma prevalence of Whanganui's children to be over 23 per cent which is almost 9 per cent higher than the national average.

Associate Professor Jim Reid from Otago University said with yesterday being World Asthma Day it is a timely reminder for us all to put asthma and the seriousness of the disease back into the spotlight.

"More research is needed to understand why New Zealand has such a high rate of asthma and also to explain why some children seem to grow out of the disease."

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He said the incidence of asthma is particularly high among Māori and Pasifika communities and those living in poverty.

Associate Professor Jim Reid from Otago University. SUPPLIED
Associate Professor Jim Reid from Otago University. SUPPLIED

"I think because asthma is so common, people have become a bit cavalier about it, it seems like every kid on the block has it, so it tends to get minimised, but last year 70 people died from asthma.

"We have still got one of the highest incidences of asthma in the world and at times up to 10-15 per cent of the population suffer from asthma. There are few asthma symptoms that can't be controlled so it's important that people suffering get diagnosed and treated," he said.

Asthma is an inflammatory respiratory condition which causes sensitivity of the airways.

The disease is characterised by symptoms of shortness of breath and wheezing and can be exacerbated during cold and flu season.

Professor Reid said the key to getting the nation's asthma burden under control is a simple Asthma Control Test (ACT) carried out at a doctor's surgery or pharmacy.

"I'm an enthusiast of the ACT. It allows GPs and pharmacists to assess patients with a score that shows what level of control they have over their symptoms.

This number can be used to alter the patient's medications and can significantly improve the symptoms of those suffering from uncontrolled asthma."