A new game has been developed to help save and improve the lives of children with cystic fibrosis.

The tablet-based game BreatheHero provides a more fun way of doing the breathing exercises most cystic fibrosis patients are prescribed and rewards children when they perform the exercise correctly.

It also collected data on how often the exercises were done.

Dr Cass Byrnes, from Starship Children's Hospital, and her team, developed the game with the aim of making the life-saving chest physiotherapy fun.

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"Physiotherapy is a major part of a cystic fibrosis patient's daily life - it can be necessary up to three times a day. It is critical to improving lung function and reducing infection," Byrnes said.

"The simple fact is that kids find physio time consuming and boring. The game acts as a distraction and focuses attention on what's happening in front of them rather than focusing on the therapy itself."

BreatheHero, a new game developed to help children with cystic fibrosis do their breathing exercises. Photo/Supplied
BreatheHero, a new game developed to help children with cystic fibrosis do their breathing exercises. Photo/Supplied

Research had found the compliance level for therapy among children and adolescents was only 49 per cent. Among all cystic fibrosis patients it was about 25 per cent.

When 50 children with the condition were asked what the worst thing about having CF was, the most common response was having to do physiotherapy - worse than going to hospital, having intravenous antibiotics or even having cystic fibrosis.

"Chest physiotherapy is the mainstay of treatment for children with chronic lung disease such as cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis. It clears their lungs of mucus which in turn reduces their risk of getting repeated infections. However, they have to do this for about 20 minutes often twice per day," Byrnes said.

"What is proposed here is a novel game they can play while doing their chest physiotherapy which encourages them to use the correct breathing techniques."

Children have to mimic the action of a dragon to gain points - the better they breathe the better they do.

Rachel Eliott's son Luke, 10, was one of the children involved in a preliminary workshop to trial the game.

Rachel Eliott helps her son Luke play the new game developed to help children with cystic fibrosis do their breathing exercises. Photo/Supplied
Rachel Eliott helps her son Luke play the new game developed to help children with cystic fibrosis do their breathing exercises. Photo/Supplied

"He thought it was really cool," she said. "He was really blown away by it and I think that it will make a massive difference to all of the CF kids when they gain access to it. And for the parents sake as well because it will entertain them while they do it."

The therapy, which often involved breathing through a nebuliser, was a tedious task that no child enjoyed so anything to make it more enjoyable was welcome, Eliott said.

"It's boring and you know every day you've got to do it regardless if it's your birthday or Christmas - you've got to do it."

The game would now be tested by 20 children through the Starship clinic, Byrnes said.

"If successful - this may have the biggest impact on supporting the children to do this therapy, to improve their daily lives, ability to do sport, and decrease their infection rates and hospital admissions.

"It will also help parents who have to constantly remind, encourage and bribe their children to do their physiotherapy. We are really very excited about the possibilities."

This week is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness week. Visit cfnz.org.nz or the Cystic Fibrosis NZ Facebook page for more information or to donate.

What is cystic fibrosis?
• Cystic Fibrosis is the most common life threatening genetic disorder affecting New Zealand children.
• It affects a number of organs in the body (especially the lungs and pancreas) by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus. In the lungs this can cause shortness of breath, a chronic cough and repeated chest infections. In the pancreas it will reduce or stop enzymes from being released to digest food.
• A baby can only be born with the disorder if both parents carry the affected gene.
• In New Zealand about one in 25 people are carriers of CF.
• There are about 500 New Zealanders with Cystic Fibrosis.
• There is no cure and life expectancy is in the mid-30s.