Asthma: A look at the numbers
Asthma is a condition in which air passages of the lungs get inflamed and become narrow, making it difficult to breathe. It is one of the major non-communicable diseases. Global estimation according to WHO suggests that more than 339 million people had asthma in 2016, among which 15-20 million people were Indians.1,2 It is also a common finding among children. Moreover, what concerns the health experts further is hospitalization rates and risk of losing lives are on the rise in all age groups with the highest rates of increase in young preschool children.
Common asthma triggers
An asthma attack usually happens on being exposed to “asthma triggers.” Not all people who have asthma have similar triggers. Your triggers can be very different from those of someone else with asthma. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them and reduce the episodes of asthma.
Some of the most common triggers are mentioned below:
1. Allergens and Air Pollution
Allergenic pollens are small enough to be transported by the wind and usually cause allergies. It has been reported that pollens trigger an asthmatic attack in patients who are allergic to them.
Certain allergies can cause a blood parameter, eosinophils levels, to rise up. About half of people with severe asthma have high levels of eosinophils in the blood, which can cause inflammation and swelling in the airways and other parts of the respiratory system.
Avoiding pollen is crucial at the time that the offending pollen is airborne. During this duration, follow certain measures like:
- Be outside only early in the morning or during the late afternoon, as humidity is higher in this period and the pollen particles tend to stick and move less in air
- Car and home windows should be kept shut
- Wear a mask and wraparound glasses
- Take a shower after being outdoors.
Outdoor air pollution can trigger an asthma attack which is attributed to several sources, including factories, cars, or wildfire smoke. Alteration in gaseous and particulate outdoor air pollutants can worsen asthmatic symptoms and causes decrease in lung function.
Monitor air quality around you, and plan your activities accordingly. When air quality index deteriorates, asthmatics should lessen the time spent outdoors and, especially, avoid exertion in the polluted air. Other precautions include wearing a dust mask and taking supplemental antioxidants.
Besides outdoor pollution, indoor chemical air pollution can also trigger asthmatic attacks. This type of pollution can be reduced by avoiding cooking-related pollutants, limiting the use of sprays and other cleaning materials that produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and by regular air exchange using natural or mechanical ventilation.
2. Heavy exercise
Exercise and other physical activities, specifically in cold air, make you breathe harder is considered as a common asthma trigger. It has been estimated that a heavy workout can cause airways to narrow in approximately 80% of people with asthma. It is also known as exercise-induced asthma and symptoms include chest tightness and cough. You might feel trouble breathing within the first 5 to 15 minutes of an aerobic workout, which usually gets relieved in the next 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. However, this does not mean you need to limit your physical activity. Talk to your doctor on exercise ways that suit your health best.
3. Weather changes
Dry wind, cold air or sudden alterations in weather can sometimes trigger an asthma episode. Besides cold temperature, increase in temperature can also cause asthma, however, the effect of cold weather appears to last for several weeks, whereas the effect of hot weather is short term.
People who smoke have a higher probability of getting asthma in comparison to non-smoker and these patients often present with worse symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of wheezing in babies with deteriorated lung function.
Thus, it is essential to quit smoking if you have asthma as even the most effective currently available treatment has reduced efficacy in smokers.
Besides active smoking, passive smoking is also hazardous as this second-hand smoke can trigger an asthma attack. It is important to encourage your loved ones to stop smoking.
5. Dust mites
Dust mites are microscopic bugs which can trigger an asthma attack. The gut of these mites contain digestive enzymes, which when excreted in faeces can induce allergies and asthma.
Following measures can be applied to prevent asthma attacks triggered by mites:
- Use allergen-proof mattress and pillowcase in impermeable covers to make a barricade between dust mites and yourself
- Wash your bedding weekly in hot cycle mode and dry it completely before use
- Minimize dust accumulating on objects by keeping them in closed cupboards
- Vacuum carpets, area rugs, and floors regularly using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
- Keep relative humidity levels in the home low, around 30- 50%.
Pests such as cockroaches, rodents are often found in the kitchens where food is prepared and crumbs are left behind. Exposure to cockroach or mouse allergens originating from urine, shed skin cells or hair follicles can trigger asthma.
The methods by which pests in your home can be controlled are as follows:
- Clean your dishes, crumbs, and spills without any delay
- Keep your kitchen clean and vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches or mice, at least every 2 to 3 days
- Store food in airtight containers
- Frequently dispose of garbage
- Keep counters, sinks, tables, and floors clean and free of clutter
- Seal cracks or openings in cabinets, walls, baseboards, and around plumbing
- Use pesticide baits and traps in areas away from children and pets
- Avoid using sprays and foggers as these can trigger asthma attacks.
Your furry friends can trigger an asthma attack if you are allergic to them. Decrease your exposure by:
- Keeping pets out of bedrooms,
- Washing furry pets
- Using an air cleaner with HEPA filter, and
- Using allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers.
People with asthma in all instances should avoid triggers. Also, never self-medicate and seek professional advice for any troubles.
Asthma and COVID-19
As per WHO, MoHFW and CDC, people with respiratory conditions including asthma are at a greater risk of developing severe illness. If you think you have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, get yourself tested and seek expert support at the earliest.