World Asthma Day: 18 million Indians live with asthma

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A woman coughing
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Medibulletin takes you through how to live with asthma and live well

For a parent, living with an asthma diagnosis for one’s child is never an easy thing. As more and more Indian parents contend with that reality,  this World Asthma Day Medibulletin brushes up your asthma awareness. The 2018 World Asthma Day theme  isNever too early, never too late. It’s always the right time to address airways disease”

What is asthma?

Asthma is a long term inflammatory disease, mainly of larger airways, leading to difficulty in breathing. It can affect people of any age groups. Its prevalence however  has been on the rise since the 1970s. WHO estimates that 4-7% people all over the world are suffering from this disease. Worldwide death estimate is about 1.8 lakh per year.

How common is it in India?

In one Indian study, prevalence of asthma in children aged 5-11 years was  found to be around 10-15%. Based on a recent Indian Study on Epidemiology of Asthma,
Respiratory Symptoms and Chronic Bronchitis (INSEARCH), the estimated
prevalence of asthma in India is 2.05% among those aged more than 15 years. The estimated national burden is of 18 million asthmatics.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The principal symptoms of asthma are breathlessness, cough, chest tightness and wheezing. Night cough may be an early red flag – as could be feeling weak while exercising. Even moodiness, especially in little children could be an early warning sign. The symptoms and the intensity of these complaints are variable over  time. Symptoms are triggered by exercise, allergen or irritant exposure, season change or viral infections. Sometimes, asthma runs in families. Consult your doctor for proper evaluation.

What does living with asthma mean?

Many things. The sudden onset respiratory distress that can even become fatal if left unattended,  limits day to day activity. It can make children miss school. For professionals it reduces the number of work days – this is a problem for lower and middle income people. The overall quality of life can go into a downward spiral because of the impaired lung function. There are behavioural symptoms too, an asthma patient may be moody or irritable because of the persistent breathing difficulty.

Why is the knowledge on asthma important?

Asthma symptoms may resolve automatically or in response to medications. Sometimes, it may be absent from weeks to months. But, on exposure to the trigger, symptoms may flare up. Try to avoid the trigger as much as possible. Asthma is not curable but onset of symptoms can be prevented. Once there is an asthma diagnosis, a periodic health check up to test lung function is a must.

Are steroids good for asthmatics?

There is a common aversion to steroids. It is true that steroids may have adverse effects. But the risk and benefit ratio must be calculated. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease. Long term (may be lifelong) and low dose steroid inhalation prevents the pathological remodelling of airways. The airway damage resulting from this remodelling may be irreversible. This will further impact quality of life.

Do not lose heart

Many children (not all) who suffer from asthma have high IQ level and good
performance in school. Many athletes have overcome asthma to become stars – these include cricketer Ian Botham, tennis star Justin Henin and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe.

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