People with asthma can lead a normal life

Pritha Roy Choudhury, CNS Correspondent, India
Oh No! Not another attack again! Keshav (name changed) felt a tightness in his chest that pulled him down to the chair. It was 7:45 in the morning and by this time he should have been at the metro station to reach office by time for a meeting scheduled for 10:45 am. The intensity of the attacks are increasing these days, he murmured. Keshav had missed taking his inhalation as the drug that he uses to control the asthma attack is not easily available.

His doctor had decided to change his medication recently, as the one that he had been using for the past few years did not give him the much needed relief that it used to at one point of time. This 35 year old father of two toddlers, is one of the over 20 million people living with asthma in India. According to WHO, asthma affects over 300 million people and approximately 250,000 people die from asthma every year. Keshav has been suffering from asthmatic attacks ever since he was 12 years old. He was born and brought up in arid Rajasthan. Initially his parents thought that his condition was due to the air pollution due to the dust particles coming from a marble crushing factory set up nearby. But with time, any change in weather, food, pollution etc triggered the much dreaded attacks.

 Asthma is one of the commonest non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the commonest non-communicable respiratory disease. The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) defines the disease as a “heterogeneous one, usually  characterized by chronic airway inflammation. It is defined by the history of respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough that vary over time and in intensity, together with variable expiratory airflow limitation” The main sources of India’s air pollution are indoor biomass fuel cook stoves, vehicular smoke, industrial plants that burn fossil fuels, and burning of waste material in the open. Exposure to tobacco smoke is another big risk factor for developing and exacerbating asthma.

Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disease and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life. Medications such as inhaled corticosteroids-for short term reliever treatment, and regular preventive treatment- are needed to control the progression of severe asthma and reduce asthma exacerbations and deaths. Inhaled steroids, the most important asthma drugs, are on the WHO’s list of essential medicines, but they still remain out of reach for many of the world’s poor who have asthma but lack access to basic effective treatment. Failure to use appropriate asthma medication regularly can lead to serious consequences, including death. Along with regular medication, it is also important to avoid asthma triggers - stimuli that irritate and inflame the airways- to control ones asthma. With medical support, each asthma patient must learn what triggers he/she should avoid. So while individuals should contribute their might by saying no to tobacco smoking and polluting fuels, governments must ensure that quality asthma drugs are made accessible and affordable to all those in need of them, especially the poor.

Pritha Roy Choudhury, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 13, 2017