Jul 18

Swimming conquers asthma for Wagga kids

Wagga Asthma Swimming Club members (back) Liz, 17, and Gabe Shaw, 12, and (front) Gabby Byrnes, 17, and Olivia Shaw, 15, have been treating their asthma through regular swimming. Picture: Michael Frogley

FOR nearly 30 years, swimming has been used as a novel approach to tackle chronic asthma in countless Wagga children.

Founded in 1985, the Wagga Asthma Swimming Club (WASC) has provided swimming opportunities for children with asthma and has had a profound impact on how the illness affects them.

It’s currently danger season for Wagga’s asthma sufferers, with pollen counts at a yearly high, which combined with frequent thunderstorms exacerbate the effects of asthma.

WASC president Kylie Shaw recalls being hounded by her children’s paediatrician to get them to take up swimming before being blown away by how much of an impact it had on curbing the effects of their asthma.

“Within weeks of starting, there was an unbelievable difference,” she said.

“I can’t sing its praises highly enough.”

Ms Shaw was at a loss with what to do for her eldest daughter, Liz, now 17, when she turned to swimming.

“She was diagnosed with asthma when she was three, but we didn’t find out about the club until she was about eight,” Ms Shaw said.

“At that point she’d been on Prednisone and just about every drug under the sun.

“Our paediatrician kept saying, ‘have you thought about swimming?'”

For Liz, the difference has been night and day.

“(My asthma) improved tenfold – I hardly need to use my puffer,” she said.

“I don’t use it much anymore because the swimming has made such a difference.”

Nearly 10 years on, Liz still keeps up swimming with the club twice a week.

What started as simply a way to treat her asthma has turned into a major hobby for her – she’s taken up competitive swimming and become an Austswim-accredited teacher.

WASC trains year-round twice a week at the Oasis Regional Aquatic Centre, and is open to children afflicted by asthma along with their siblings.

It has now grown to around 90 members.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District clinical nurse consultant Robyn Paton has warned people with asthma to be on high alert over the coming couple of weeks. Picture: Michael Frogley

WAGGA is in the midst of its most dangerous period for asthma attacks.

The two weeks either side of Melbourne Cup can be the most trying time of year for asthma, with pollen counts in the region high and frequent thunderstorms exacerbating the conditions that can trigger asthma attacks.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) launched an asthma alert on October 20, which runs through to November 17, warning of high risk conditions for those with asthma.

MLHD clinical nurse consultant Robyn Paton said pollen counts were moderate at the moment, but high winds and storms were making life difficult for asthma sufferers.

“I think what’s happening is we’re getting some of those high winds and that stormy environment – that’s helping to make those with allergies feel worse,” she said.

“Providing you’ve got reasonably high pollen counts, the winds pick them up and get them into the atmosphere.”

Rain can expand and explode pollen granules, producing fine proteins, which can be breathed further down into the lungs and make asthma symptoms worse, Ms Paton said.

The dangers facing Wagga’s asthma sufferers were highlighted over the weekend, with one Miss Wagga Quest entrant hospitalised on Saturday morning ahead of that evening’s crowning ceremony.

Ms Paton said people with asthma needed to be prepared for the worst at any time, particularly during the spring thunderstorm season.

“We try to get people to go to the doctor, to make sure they’ve got the correct medication for prevention, making sure they’ve got an asthma action plan and they know what to do when their asthma gets worse, so they can get help when it’s required,” she said.

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