• 330 Million People Suffer From Asthma Worldwide
• 250,000 People Die Yearly, Says Experts
As World Asthma Day comes up on May 1 2018, it has been estimated that asthma affects between 10.7 and 13 per cent people. And though the exact number remains unknown for now, 330 million people are estimated to suffer from the ailment worldwide.
Physicians have described asthma as a chronic respiratory condition in which the airways are inflamed, the airways’ muscle contract and the linings of the airway are twitchy, swollen and the lumen becomes smaller with limitation to airflow.
The sufferers have cough, episodic breathlessness, chest tightness, noisy breathing and wheezes. This occurs on and off and may get better with or without treatment.To tackle the disease, governments at all level have been advised to partner with pharmaceutical companies to make quality and affordable medicines available for asthma sufferers, as well as increase awareness about asthma, so that cases can be diagnosed early and treatments commence.
A Consultant Respiratory Physician with Department of Medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine, Ikeja, Lagos, Dr. Olayinka Olufunke Adeyeye, said asthma results from complex interactions between genetics and environment. While some types of asthma are inherited, others run in the family, where some members have what is called atopy. This involves itchy eyes, recurrent running nose and some skin disease, known as atopic dermatitis. The environmental aspect leads to development of such environmental symptoms, including air pollution both indoor and out-door, dust mite and cockroaches allergen.
In the younger age, more males are affected, but after 14 years, more females tend to suffer from the ailment. Obesity also increases likelihood of developing asthma. Exposure to certain triggers can lead to developing symptoms in those that are already predisposed.She said: “Chronic cough, especially at night, episodic breathlessness, chest tightness and wheezy sounds while breathing are common symptoms. These may be associated with such specific triggers as exposure to dust and exercise, among others. Some patients may complain of cold that frequently become chesty. Asthma has no cure, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce chances of developing symptoms, which include avoidance of triggers, not smoking, avoid rugs in home, regular washing of curtains and beddings, cleaning surfaces with damp cloths, avoid dusty areas, regularly changing of AC air filters and cleaning of fans, among others.
And though asthma cannot be cured, but it can be totally controlled. This involves both patient and healthcare partnership. Treatment of an asthmatic is not only with medication.“There must be good and continuous education about the disease, the long-term nature and the need for sufferer to take charge. He or she needs to know about triggers, dust, cold, change in weather, exercise, emotional issues, all of which can increase symptoms. They should avoid certain drugs including, NSAID, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief and B blockers, among others.
“Drugs for treatment include reliever medications and preventer medications. The preventer medications are those that patients must use every day, whether or not they have any symptom, while the reliever medications are used only when they have symptoms to ameliorate. Unfortunately in our environment, many asthma sufferers are undertreated. So, they suffer immense discomfort, hospitalisation, absenteeism from work and school, with even the risk of death from a severe attack, just because they are not taking preventer medications.
“Asthma is common, and sufferers can have good quality life. They can be productive and symptom-free. They need to partner with their doctors to achieve total control. It is not a thing to be ashamed of. An asthmatic will need clean environment, understand his triggers and avoid them. He/she will need to have daily preventer medications and reliever medications to be used when necessary. Asthma need not limit anyone’s aspiration, with total control. There is need for more awareness about asthma.”
She said it is estimated that 250,000 people die globally every year from the ailment, and very few patients have access to asthma treatment. As drugs for managing asthma are very expensive in Nigeria, there is limited access to its medication, as majority of asthma patients are poor.
Consultant Physician and Pulmonologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr. Michele Dania said asthma patients should visit hospital and avoid self-medication. They also need to see doctors, whenever they have symptoms, as there are other sicknesses that display the same symptoms as asthma
She said: “Because asthma is a disease that affects airways, drugs are given through inhalers, rather than tablets. Though tablets are available and cheaper, but they have more side effects, while the inhaler has no side effect.
“One can develop asthma at any stage in life. We have allergic and non-allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is most common in children, which usually occurs at the age of two, when they begin to show symptoms. We also have adult-onset asthma, which occurs in old people. So, people can develop asthma at early, middle or even old age.
Dania explained that there is also occupational asthma, which occurs when people are exposed at the workplace to such allergies as flours, detergents and chemicals.She said: “Even pregnant women, who smoke expose their children to developing asthma later. Now we have increased epidemic of obesity; people are getting fatter, which predisposes them to asthma. Smoking, obesity and indoor air pollutions, as well as environmental pollution can all be controlled.
“People are advised to keep their houses clean to prevent asthma. They should rid their houses of cockroaches and houseflies. Those living with asthma should avoid things that trigger symptoms, such as strong smells and certain drugs. It is very important to notify doctor or pharmacist, so that certain drugs can be avoided in such persons. Sometimes, exercise can also trigger asthma, though this does not mean patients should avoid exercise, but we teach them to use their inhalers before the exercise.
“Workers wearing their masks can also help in controlling workplace environmental exposure and quality of air in factories should be encouraged.” Dania advised people to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, as research has shown that low vitamin D can make people to be exposed to asthma.She said: “Sometimes, we advise people to stay away from certain food, because there are some people who live with asthma and have concomitant food allergy that might trigger the ailment, when taken. For instance, cow milk, which should be avoided by people allergic to it. Some people are exposed to asthma whenever they take peanuts and crayfish, among others. Generally, people should eat healthy.“We also encourage exclusive breastfeeding, as it reduces the chances of children having diseases generally.
“Those who live with asthma should know they could also live healthy. They need to be faithful in taking their drugs and visit their doctors. They should not see asthma as something that would stop them from achieving their dreams.” She stressed that society should avoid stigmatising people living with asthma. Rather, they should encourage them to take their drugs.“There is also need for asthma education, using religious leaders, community leaders and market women, including media organisations to reduce the number of people dying of asthma diseases,” she said.