When it Becomes Hard to Breathe


Asthma is a disease affecting the tracheal and alveolar airways that carry air to and from lungs. People who suffer from this condition are said to be asthmatic. As inflammation causes the airways to become narrower, less air can pass through them, both to and from the lungs. Symptoms of the narrowing include wheezing, chest tightness, breathing problems and coughing.


Asthma is a chronic disease and is a major health hazard globally. Its increased prevalence in many countries following industrialisation and urbanisation has been associated with increased levels of pollution too. Despite the existence of proper medication, asthma control is poor in developing countries like India. According to the Health Ministry’s recent report released by the Indian Council for Medical Research, in India there are 13 million people under the age of 15 who suffer from asthma. Another 11 million people above the age of 35 suffer from chronic bronchitis. In both the age groups the prevalence among men is higher than in women. As far as chronic bronchitis is concerned almost 70 lakh men and 42 lakh women suffer from it. The main causes for this high number of bronchitis cases are primarily smoking and pollution, both indoor and outdoor. The worst affected by asthma is the age group 15-35, and beyond the age of 50.


Causes of Asthma

  • Environmental factors: Warm, well-furnished, carpeted homes are breeding grounds for dust mites in bedding, carpets and furnishings. Many children, instead of playing outside in fresh air, spend most of their time indoors. This further increases dust mite sensitisation. Exposure to tobacco smoke whether during the mother’s pregnancy or in early childhood, predisposes children to developing asthma. It may also aggravate the symptoms. Children can also become sensitised to animals, pollens moulds and dust, if they are genetically predisposed.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Asthma may be congenital, and many people with asthma may also have other allergic conditions such as rhinitis which is inflammation of the nose lining.
  • Workplace Environment: In adults, asthma can develop in response to irritants at the workplace which may range from chemicals and dust to gases, moulds and pollens.
  • Dietary factors: High proportion of processed foods, higher salt intake and lower anti-oxidant intake may contribute to asthma.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Reduced exercise may mean less stretching of the airways, and a greater tendency for the muscle in the airway walls to contract abnormally when exposed to minor irritants. Swimming is a good exercise for those with asthma.

Facts about Asthma

  • Emotional triggers may cause flare-ups.
  • There is a psychological condition known as factious asthma, spastic dysphonia or globus hystericus, where emotional issues may cause symptoms similar to those of asthma.
  • In about 50 per cent of asthmatic children, the condition may remain inactive during the teenage years but may recur anytime in adulthood.
  • There is no cure for asthma, but the disease can be controlled in most patients with good medical care.
  • You have a 6 per cent chance of having asthma if neither parent has the condition, a 30 per cent chance if one parent has it, and a 70 per cent chance if both parents have it.
  • Asthma is not contagious.
  •  Relocation to a new environment may bring temporary relief but many people become sensitised to the new environment also and the asthma symptoms return.
  •  Asthma is best controlled by having an asthma management plan chalked out in consultation with a doctor.
  •  Asthma medicines are not addictive.


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