Asthma is an epidemic in the making. India has witnessed a whopping 43% surge in its incidence since 2013. One of the major causes of concern is the growing rate of pollution in our country.
According to a recent report, globally, thirteen of the most polluted cities, of top 20, are in India. One of the serious health problem caused due to pollution is asthma.
It is a condition in which the airways narrow and swells and produce excess mucus. It may lead to difficulty in breathing and may sometimes be life-threatening.
Cold or damp air can enter the airways and trigger respiratory muscle spasm, causing asthma symptoms. Moreover, cold weather is associated with an increase in the number of moulds and spores in the air which may trigger an attack of asthma.
The anatomy of the human airway is such that, it is layered by a thin layer of fluid. In winter, we breathe in cold, dry air, because of which the fluid in the airway evaporates faster than it is substituted.
Constant dryness can cause irritation and swelling of the airway, which may not be a problem for individuals, but can be worse for asthma patients.
Also, there is a protective layer of mucus which functions to remove foreign bodies/ dust particles from the airways. In winter, this layer of mucus is thicker and stickier than in warm weather and may predispose an individual to cold, and other infections.
Congestion of the sinuses, due to common cold or flu caused by viruses that are prevalent in high numbers in the winter season may also be responsible for triggering asthma. The respiratory syncytial virus and influenza viruses are exclusively present during the winter and early spring seasons.
Allergens in our homes and in the environment such as pollen, dust mites, animal dander, damp walls, which harbour fungal spores and others, are responsible for allergic asthma.
Although allergic asthma can occur in any season, during winter, saturation of both indoor and outdoor allergens occurs which can trigger more frequent episodes of asthma.
Exercise has also been reported to increase the incidence of asthma. It does not mean that an asthmatic individual should refrain from exercising. However, stick to moderate intensity exercises and plan your workouts in a manner that does not require you to commute long distances in the cold.
What to do to avoid triggering of asthma symptoms in winter:
- Do not forget to carry your inhalational medication as prescribed by your doctor.
- There may be an increase in the frequency of attacks, and therefore, increased requirement of medication. Consult your doctor about dose adjustment to avoid side effects.
- Stay hydrated to keep the mucus in the airway thinner, and therefore, easier to clean.
- Maintain indoor hygiene. Vacuum and dust your home routinely. Change bed sheets and pillow covers regularly.
- Ensure that your car is clean. Air vents in cars, upholstery are a nidus of infection and can trigger an asthma attack.
- Try to avoid people who are unwell. Viral infections are contagious.
- Talk to your doctor about preventive flu vaccination (if necessary).
- Maintaining the hygiene of pets is also important. Take particular care of shed animal hair/ fur which when inhaled can worsen your symptoms.
- Eat warm foods and dress to protect yourself from the chilly weather.
- Do understand that asthma cannot be cured, but you can take precautionary measures to restrict the severity of symptoms.