Five per cent of adults and double that number of children suffer from asthma in Pakistan and the last few decades have seen a growing increase in numbers said Dr Nawal Salahuddin, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, AKU on World Asthma Day.
The Day is a reminder that this chronic disease is on its way to becoming a significant health issue in Pakistan, as the country industrialises and its urban population grows, calling for effective action to reduce its effect on individuals and their families, and to minimise its social and economic cost.
It is not clear why some people develop asthma and others do not but the strongest risk factors are a family history of asthma as well as environmental factors. Dr Naseeruddin Mahmood, Lecturer, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, AKU added that tobacco smoke and outdoor pollution are known asthma ‘triggers’, especially in children. He called for the government to protect people from tobacco smoke by fully implementing the law which calls for the prohibition of smoking in all public places.
Environmental pollution may lead a person to wheeze but he or she should only be diagnosed as an asthmatic after a thorough physical examination and a spirometry – lung function – test, for there are other medical conditions that can be mistaken for asthma. According to Dr Ali Bin Sarwar Zubairi, Associate Professor, AKU, spirometry simply checks how much air you can inhale and exhale, to detect whether the airways in the lungs are narrowing, a symptom common in asthmatics.
Besides air pollution and tobacco smoke, there are many asthma ‘triggers’ that can set off an attack: pollen, cigarette smoke, chemical irritants at work, and house dust mites in bedding and carpets. Dr Hashir Majid, Assistant Professor, AKU explained that this calls for a person to know about the different allergens and to identify and avoid those that trigger their bouts of coughing and wheezing. It has to be remembered that even cold air, extreme emotion, excessive physical exercise and even certain medication can be triggers.
But a person can live a normal life when dealing with a chronic complaint such as asthma – the key is managing the disease. Dr Muhammad Irfan, Assistant Professor, AKU, mentioned that using anti-asthma medication correctly and avoiding allergens is really the cornerstone to achieving control. He emphasized that inhalers are the first line of treatment and are the safest way of delivering the medicine to the lungs. Dr Irfan lamented the fact that many asthma patients in Pakistan have serious reservations about inhaler therapy; he urged regular use of inhaled medications.
AKU will be holding a public awareness programme on World Asthma Day including a live demonstration on properly using an inhaler, spacer and peak flow meter.
Fabeha Pervez, Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org