As World Asthma Day 2015 draws near, it is important that we take stock of the problem of asthma, understand the challenges ahead and look for strategies to cope with the condition. Asthma was once a condition that most Indians regarded as an urban or developed world condition, but what was once an uncommon condition is now widespread here at home. With our growing urban sprawl, rising pollution levels, increased environmental destruction and accelerated global climate change, the problem is only mushrooming and could increase exponentially within a few decades.
According to WHO estimates, asthma affects a whopping 235 million people across the world. It is one of the most well-known of all chronic respiratory disorders and like most chronic diseases, it cannot be cured with treatment. A patient who suffers from asthma will experience breathing problems throughout his or her life and treatment can only help to relieve the symptoms and to improve respiratory function. Living with asthma can therefore be quite a burden and it is something that we should all be concerned about, whether or not it affects us directly.
Life as an AsthmaticNo child should be denied the freedom of being able to run outdoors during their summer holidays or during a trip to the countryside. Kids should be able to enjoy their contact with nature and should be able to indulge in their boisterous games or 'tea-parties' without having to cling to that inhaler and without their parents having to worry about the risk of their child succumbing to asphyxiation. Sadly, this is not to be as the number of kids being affected by a asthma keeps rising steadily. The problem of asthma in children has grown significantly and efforts need to be made to better train and equip caregivers to cope with emergency situations that could arise when dealing with childhood asthma.
AdvertisementAsthma often develops in childhood, but it can affect children and adults alike. The condition develops as a result of an allergic reaction, with the respiratory tract becoming hyper responsive to certain allergens like dust, tobacco smoke and pollen. Contact with such allergens results in the inflammation and irritation of the airways called bronchi. The inflammation of these airways results in their narrowing, which consequently affects airflow and causes symptoms like breathlessness, wheezing, tightness in the chest and coughing. These symptoms can vary in severity, may be persistent, and they worsen and can become almost debilitating under certain circumstances. When this happens it is referred to as an asthma attack.
Asthma attacks sometimes develop slowly, with symptoms gradually worsening over a couple of days but there can also be a rapid onset of symptoms in severe attacks. In such cases there is little warning, and timely intervention is critical. In other words, parents and caregivers for asthmatics and asthmatics themselves always need to be watchful and vary of any of the symptoms of an asthma attack. Living with asthma doesn't just affect your physical abilities and quality of life; it also affects your mental and emotional well being because of the near constant state of stress and anxiety.
Why is Asthma Increasing and What Can We Do?It is estimated that currently asthma affects around 20 million Indians and these numbers are only growing. Although the precise causes of asthma are not clearly understood, no one can deny the link between rising levels of pollution and the increased incidence of asthma. While there are other factors that may contribute to the development of asthma like heredity and modern hygiene standards, environmental irritants and allergens like dust, smoke, particulate matter and pollen have the biggest impact on the severity and onset of symptoms.
The most important step we can take towards combating the problem would be to raise awareness about asthma screening and asthma management strategies. Screening tests can help significantly as timely action can help to avert any complications. Moreover, although treatment for asthma cannot cure the condition it is extremely effective in controlling it. While preventive tips and coping strategies can help individuals affected, their scope is increasingly limited as we do not live in isolation. Tackling asthma requires a concerted action and as a society we need to address the burgeoning problem of pollution and the simultaneous threat of deforestation.
Climate change affects air quality and poses a huge threat to asthmatics. Because of climate change, we are faced with rising temperatures, elevated levels of ground-level ozone, increase in particulate matter and extreme weather events, all of which exacerbate asthma symptoms. While tackling climate change may require a collective effort, we can be individually responsible and take steps to reduce our carbon footprint and to improve the quality of air. If you are a smoker, quit smoking; if you drive a car, try to use public transport occasionally and use your car only when necessary; lower your energy consumption and avoid wastage of non-renewable resources.
Improving the quality of air is ultimately in all our interests, as this would reduce the risk of most lung diseases like bronchitis, emphysema and others.