World Asthma Day is observed on every first Tuesday in the month of May. The theme for this year is ‘Closing the Gaps in Asthma Care’. The HEALTH PIONEER talks about the disease which kills around 1.98 lakh asthmatic people every year in India.
India is home to around 34.3 million asthmatics, that is 12.9 per cent of the global 262 million cases. According to the latest data from the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) study in 2019, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha are among the top three with the highest number of asthmatics.
Asthma is a serious, chronic disease that causes the airways in the lungs to become swollen or inflamed and over-reactive to triggers like pollen, dust or smoke. Severe asthma requires inhaled medications, controller medications, and oftentimes oral corticosteroids, and, if ignored can take a significant toll on people living with this disease.
Prof (Dr) GC Khilnani, Chairman, PSRI Institute of Pulmonary, Critical care & Sleep Medicine and member, technical advisory Group of WHO Global Air Pollution and Health, says that asthma is a health issue that largely goes undiagnosed. The patients have episodic cough, chest tightness, breathlessness and wheezing (a whistling sound from the chest). “These issues can usually be treated with the help of inhalers or with cough syrups, warm water, antibiotics or other home remedies. In young children and infants, it is seen as frequent cough and rapid breathing. Fever is not a symptom of asthma. Diagnosis of asthma is carried out by doing spirometry, where a patient blows into a machine that measures the calibre of the airways.”
Doctors say that by reducing levels of atmospheric pollution, India can cut down the burden of the disease caused by asthma. They add that the overall framework for managing asthma requires considerable attention to environmental exposures (indoor and outdoor) and control practices.
Dr. Ravi Shekhar Jha, Director, PulmonologyFortis Escorts Faridabad notes, “asthma is mostly an allergic disease, which has multiple triggers. Most of the time, asthma is triggered by dust, smoke and pollution. Those who have hypersensitivity of airways can experience worsening of symptoms when they come in contact with such irritants. Therefore, the best thing one can do to prevent asthma attacks is to reduce their exposure to these irritants.”
Must remember, smoking is one of the commonest irritants. Another important thing we should keep in mind is that if prescribed, we must take inhalers. Inhalers have no addiction and it is one such thing which can stop the progression of the disease.
According to Dr Ambuj Roy, professor of Cardiology at AIIMS, elderly people, patients with lung and heart problems, Covid-recovered patients and pregnant women are most susceptible to issues arising out of the polluted air.
Prevention is better than cure
The best way to prevent asthma attacks are to identify the possible triggers so that you can avoid or minimise exposure to those. You must take your medications as prescribed. Your doctor prescribes medications known as asthma preventers such as inhaled corticosteroids. Track your asthma and recognise early signs that it may be getting worse, and you can have an action plan from your doctor to know what to do when your asthma is getting worse.
At the same time, Dr. Sandeep Nayar, Senior Director & HOD , Chest & Respiratory Diseases, Max Hospital echoes similar views. “Asthma patients shouldn’t discontinue inhaler therapy. “Inhalers play an advantageous role compared to tablets or injections in asthma therapy. And it is my sincere advice to patients that under no circumstances they should not stop taking inhalers, until the doctors have prescribed to do so.
“Even for pregnant women, who worry about how the changes of pregnancy will affect their asthma, inhalers therapy is most successful when a woman receives regular medical care and follows her treatment plan closely.”