Rising numbers of Wairarapa people are needing hospital treatment for respiratory issues.

Respiratory disease has increased nationwide despite modern treatment and better understanding of the problem, according to the Asthma Foundation's National Respiratory Strategy.

The disease refers to conditions which impair the airways and lungs including asthma, bronchiectasis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Wairarapa District Health Board (DHB) figures showed people needed to go to hospital for respiratory conditions 640 times last year. That was up on 537 the previous year and 540 in 2013.

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DHB interim director Jill Stringer said the DHB was trying to reduce the number of admissions by encouraging annual influenza vaccinations and advocating for the take-up of the warm housing initiative.

It was encouraging self-management of early infections and making use of the Health Recovery Programme to allow community management rather than hospital visits.

The DHB had also had a monthly visiting specialist respiratory physician clinic, said Ms Stringer.

Other DHB initiatives included more use of physiotherapy in COPD and bronchiectasis patients.

The Asthma Foundation's strategy report said children, people on low incomes and Maori and Pacific people experienced a much greater burden of respiratory ill health than other New Zealanders.

Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie of Massey University said respiratory diseases not only reflected the health status of individuals but were also a comment on the environments where they lived, worked, and played.

Poverty was a breeding ground for respiratory diseases, he added.

Ongoing exposure to toxic air, poorly heated homes or streets clouded by diesel and petrol fumes greatly increased the risks of respiratory disease.

Addressing the problem required highly skilled medical interventions, ready access to services, early intervention, close links between the various components of the health sector and high levels of health literacy, he said. The National Respiratory Strategy was a call to action to reduce the incidence of respiratory disease, reduce the impact of respiratory disease and eliminate inequalities in respiratory health in New Zealand, according to the report.