Increasing incidence of Asthma in urban India worrisome

Number of Asthma patients in India is almost equal to Russia’s total population!


Kochi: Higher levels of air pollution in urban India poses a threat to a large population of adults and children, exposing them to pulmonary diseases, like Asthma, warn medical experts.


“The main issue with air pollution is ozone gas levels and particulates. Ozone gas levels are produced by the interaction of sunlight with chemicals that are released from automobile exhausts, factories, chemical power plants and smoke generated from coal and oil burning,” the ISJ website quoted Dr. Arun Nair, Chief of Interventional Pulmonary Medicine at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in Kochi, as saying.


Dr. Nair noted that while Asthma is not curable, with advances in therapy it can be effectively treated in a majority of cases with minimal side effects. However, the best treatment still remains inhaled steroids, while long-term oral steroids could trigger serious side-effects like malfunctioning of adrenal glands.


Remember, if you do not get quick relief by taking your Salbutamol inhaler and you are finding it difficult to speak, rush to the nearest emergency room of a hospital so that urgent life-saving medications and treatment can be given.


Checklist for Asthma patients 

Take your prescribed medications (inhalers) correctly

Ensure the technique of using inhaler is correct

Always carry your inhaler with you

Have an asthma self-management plan 

Do not ignore increasing symptoms – consult a doctor immediately

Have an asthma bracelet to alert others of your condition in an emergency

Inform your friends & colleagues in office / school / college of your condition 


India has about 10 per cent of the global Asthma burden of between 100 and 150 million people – roughly equivalent to the population of Russia. In addition, worldwide deaths due to Asthma have reached over 1,80,000 annually!


India’s Asthma burden is between 17 and 30 million, estimated from the 2011 population census. It exceeds the burden of Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined! Rough estimates indicate a prevalence of between 10 and 15 per cent in 5-11 year-old children in India.


Interestingly, about 75 per cent of Asthma patients do not know the right use of inhalers, said Dr. Nair, which exposes them to oral infections and infections to their voice-chords.


Asthma has genetic elements and runs in families, but often there is no familial pattern in some patients. Increased respiratory infections (particularly viral infections in childhood) can affect the lining of the airways, making them more exposed to triggers that can cause asthma. While allergy is a causative factor for development of asthma, many people develop asthma without ever having had any allergy. 


According to Dr. Nair inhaled steroids remain the best available therapy for asthma. For a majority of cases, the disease can be effectively controlled with mild to moderate doses of inhaled steroids, which have a very good safety profile. Systemic side-effects are due to absorption of inhaled steroids into the blood stream and generally negligible at low to medium doses.


In addition, there are drugs that block the allergy causing antibodies, which can be used in carefully selected allergic asthma patients who have poor control despite maximum inhaled treatment. Moreover, new advances in the field of Asthma allow combination drugs to be given once a day – the good news is that this will soon be available in India.


In Western countries, interventions that can be delivered via bronchoscope (thermoplasty) to help selected patients. Unfortunately, these technologies are yet to be available in India.


Remember Asthma can be controlled easily. Unfortunately many people still continue to die in India from Asthma due to lack of awareness, misguided beliefs and poor access to fully trained emergency healthcare facilities.


May 3 is observed as World Asthma Day and this year’s theme is “It's Time to Control Asthma”, as this year’s theme.




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