Leaky and mouldy homes may not only make asthma worse but may also cause asthma in the first place, according to University of Otago, Wellington research published today.

Lead researcher Dr Caroline Shorter from the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington (UOW) said it had been known for a long time that damp and mould made existing asthma worse but this was one of the first studies to show that mould may actually cause asthma to develop. The research also found the more mould, the more cases of asthma.

The study investigated the homes of 150 children who had visited their GPs for their first prescribed asthma medication, and compared them with the homes of 300 matched children who had never wheezed. The research, published in international journal Indoor Air, was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and carried out by researchers from Otago’s He Kainga Oranga, Housing and Health Research Programme.

Shorter says the team found that mould and leaks were more likely to be found in the bedrooms and homes of children who had just started wheezing compared to the children who had never wheezed.

“The amount of mould present in the bedroom made a difference;  the more mould, the greater the risk that children would start wheezing,” said the research fellow.

She said this was particularly concerning as surveys carried out by the Building Research Association of New Zealand and others indicated that around half of all New Zealanders have mould in their homes.

“We also have very high rates of asthma in New Zealand with 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children reported to suffer from the condition,” said Shorter. “Worldwide prevalence of indoor mould is estimated at 10-30 per cent of homes, depending on climate and asthma rates are 1 in 20.”

“We urgently need to improve the quality of our children’s home environments”.

Dr Shorter’s research shows that it is important for dry homes to have ‘the basics’ sorted, for example:

  • leaks repaired
  • not having water pooling under the house
  • good insulation
  • working extractor fans
  • secure windows that can be opened
  • ways of heating the entire home.

She said moisture needed to be reduced in homes by using extractor fans, not drying clothes inside, and improving ventilation by opening windows often, even for just 10 minutes a day.

“Even with these measures mould can still grow, so we also need to frequently check for mould and remove it when we see it, particularly around windows, where condensation can increase mould growth,” she said

The next stage of the team’s research is to look in more detail at what types of mould might be important and what additional prevention measures could be used to keep mould at a minimum.








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