World Asthma Day Special: Breathe easy

Asthma attacks can be prevented by identifying the triggers and taking due care to keep them away

happy woman breathing easilyOne day when Preeti came home from a late-night party, she was almost breathless. And by the time she could wake her mother, she collapsed. Luckily, the hospital next door could revive her, and she now lives to tell the tale. Her mother remembers that when Preeti was young, she was always a sickly child; she had stomach aches, rashes and frequent colds.

Preeti, like many other teenagers, suffers from allergic asthma. And like her peers, she is in denial.

How does it begin?

Allergy is the most common chronic illness in children and teenagers. It usually begins in early childhood as rashes, dermatitis or childhood eczema and may be accompanied by reaction to certain foods. These symptoms disappear, unfortunately only to be replaced by nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing or cough. The child has moved on to allergic rhinitis or asthma.

In 70 per cent cases, allergy and asthma begin in early childhood between 3 – 10 years of age and most children outgrow the symptoms by late teens. There are, however, about 30 per cent asthmatics that develop late onset disease and about the same number continue to have symptoms for the rest of their lives.

What goes wrong

Asthma and allergic rhinitis are caused by inflammation of the lining of the nose, throat or of the breathing tubes [bronchi]. The lining of the breathing passages becomes swollen and narrowed, causing difficulty in breathing along with a feeling of choking.

While the causes of asthma are not entirely known, some possible causes include genetic predisposition, environmental irritants and specific triggers. If timely help is given and the triggers are removed, the person can recover. If, however, the irritants remain, the person becomes asthmatic.

Why it happens

Environmental and occupational exposures are some of the reasons that asthma develops and persists.

Other factors include:

  • Inherited tendency to develop allergies [called atopy]
  • Parents who have asthma
  • Certain respiratory infections during childhood
  • Contact with air-borne allergens or exposure to viral infections during infancy or early childhood
  • House dust mites
  • Pets
  • Obesity.

While asthma may not be entirely curable and may flare up from time to time, simple precautions and judicious use of safe and effective medicines can help the person lead a normal life.

What triggers it?

woman sneezingThe best way to keep an asthma attack at bay is to always breathe in fresh air. Environmental pollution and asthma are strongly linked with each other. Patients have more attacks in winters and when people burn firecrackers [the ambient pollutants are at the highest levels in this period].

However, apart from these many other factors contribute to air pollution, especially in cities and towns. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Exhaust from planes, trains and automobiles
  • Exhausts from factories, heating units, power plants, incinerators and industry waste
  • Attrition [things grinding or wearing down]
  • Combustion and burning of fossil fuel.

Apart from asthma, polluted air also causes eye irritation, respiratory symptoms and diseases, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, sore throat, chest pain, and nausea.

How does it impact life?

Apart from the physical discomfort experienced, asthma has several long-term implications for the affected person. They include:

  • Huge health costs
  • Loss of productivity
  • Constant mental and emotional trauma to patient and family caused due to the fear of triggers and physical suffering
  • Death.

Can we do something about it?

Let us do our bit to prevent this respiratory disorder, which deeply hampers a person’s life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Heavily fine air pollution offenders
  • Switch to CNG as fuel for your vehicles
  • Use environment-friendly products. In addition to external pollution, it is also important to keep indoor pollution in check.
  • Refrain from smoking indoors, it can lead to passive smoking in others; if children inhale the smoke, they turn out to be asthmatic when they grow up.
  • Prevent dust mites or the tiny bugs that grow in carpets and mattresses by encasing pillows and mattresses in special dust-proof covers and always wash them in hot water [above 130 degrees F] to kill them.
  • Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50 per cent.
  • Keep stuffed toys out of the bed and wash them regularly.
  • Keep furred or feathered pets out of the house. If that is not possible, at least keep them out of the bedroom.
  • Use a dust mask and a double-layered or micro-filter vacuum cleaner bag when you vacuum your home.
  • Avoid using aerosols, floor polish/wax, insecticides, pesticides, and other chemical solutions. As much as possible use house cleaners and pesticides with an organic base.
  • Fix leaky faucets, pipes and other sources of water to prevent growth of mould within the house.
  • Clean air-conditioners regularly.

Throw those allergens out!

Asthmatics know that simple, day-to-day household activities like dusting and cleaning can trigger bouts of wheezing, sneezing or even a full-blown asthma attack. Hence, they usually consider buying products like air purifiers, air conditioners and vacuum cleaners to keep their surroundings clean without facing these triggers.

The working secret

These air-purifying home appliances free the air in your home from almost all asthma-causing allergens. They significantly reduce the number of air-borne dust mites by reducing the amount of floating air and efficiently cleanse away all chemical irritants, pollutants, smoke and even fine pet hairs. These gadgets are able to do all this because they are equipped with the latest technologies that include advanced filters and adsorbents.

A good investment

Investing in such products is a good deal. Here’s why:

More free time. Simply installing an efficient air purifier or air conditioner will keep your home free of impurities like dust mites, household dust, bad odour, bacteria and virus. This saves a lot of your time, which you otherwise spend to manually keep these allergens at bay. You can use this time to do all the things you love—spend time with loved loves, read a book or just catch up on some sleep.

Less stress. Just the realisation that a product is constantly keeping your home more hygienic and free from air impurities and germs will keep you happy and relaxed. You need not worry about anything causing inconvenience or triggering an attack. And this, for sure, is a good thing to boost your wellness quotient.

No side-effects. Medicines that prevent or control asthmatic symptoms usually cause some side-effects in the long run. Using these gadgets to keep your home more hygienic not only lessens the chances of a trigger, but also assures no side-effects [most of these products are scientifically-tested]. Another reason to calm your tensed minds.

Cost effectiveness. Firstly, it is a one-time investment when you install the product at home. Secondly, these gadgets need low or no maintenance and also consume less energy.

Word of caution

Health experts say that customers should be very careful while selecting air-purifying home appliances. Avoid buying ozone generators because they produce the air pollutant ozone. Inhaling ozone, even in small amounts, can irritate the lungs. Health effects include throat irritation and infection, cough bouts, chest pain, breathlessness and an increased risk of respiratory infections.

Instead, opt for the high-efficiency particulate air [HEPA] filters, which are more effective in removing allergens from the air, without posing any ozone concerns. When you buy air-purifiers or home cleaning gadgets like vacuum cleaners, look for features that are developed specifically to tackle dust-mites and other such asthma-triggering allergens.

These appliances do accomplish in making your home allergen-free, thereby reducing your chances of experiencing asthmatic symptoms. However, according to health experts, though these gadgets are undoubtedly good, you must not use them as the sole means to keep asthma at bay.

Simple things like better ventilation, practising hygienic habits, avoiding strong odours and chemical products, and keeping household furniture and goods dust-free also add up to ensure asthma and other such respiratory disorders are miles away from your home. Research conducted by Dr Jens Korsgaard of University Hospital, Denmark, showed that better ventilation cut drug usage of asthmatics by 60 per cent.

Inhaling fresh cold air with low water content is also an effective treatment for asthma that is caused by allergy to house dust mites. Experts also advice patients to stay indoors as much as possible especially during the pollen season and when they are experiencing a severe allergy attack.

—CHRISTY Melroy is editorial assistant, CW


Dr Sanjeev K Mehta, MD, FCCP [USA], is a consultant chest specialist at Lilavati Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai.


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