Saturday, September 21News That Matters

The Asthma Menace

My experience working in rural Ghana presented children with various forms of eye conditions. On treating these eye conditions came a lot of children with symptoms of asthma. Unfortunate as it may sound, some mothers brought these children for the presenting eye condition and not for the symptoms of asthma.

The fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental exposure to inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways.

Agents which can provoke allergic reactions may be dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander. Others include pollens, moulds, tobacco smoke, chemical irritants in the workplace air pollution.

Other triggers can include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. Even certain medications can trigger asthma: aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and migraine.

Urbanization has been associated with an increase in asthma. But the exact nature of this relationship is unclear. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children.

Asthma is not just a public health problem for high income countries but occurs in all countries regardless of level of development. Over 80% of asthma deaths occurs in low- and lower-middle income countries. Asthma is under-diagnosed and under-treated in many of theses areas. This creates a substantial burden to individuals and families and possibly restricting individuals’ activities for a lifetime.

Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disease and enable people to enjoy good quality of life. Short-term medications are used to relieve symptoms. People with persistent symptoms must take long-term medication daily to control the underlying inflammation and prevent symptoms and exacerbation.

Medication is not the only way to control asthma. It is also important to avoid asthma triggers – stimuli that irritate and inflame the airways. With medical support, each asthma patient must learn what triggers he or she should avoid. Although asthma does not kill on the scale of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic diseases, failure to use appropriate medications or to adhere to treatment can lead to death.

Dr. Osei Boaitey
Institute of Qualitative Methodology
University of Alberta, Canada
osei.boaitey@yahoo.com

Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

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