Does the way you live increase your risk of asthma? Dismaying though this may sound, it does. Colour and additives added to preserved food, obesity, secondhand smoke, poorly ventilated homes and workplaces (10 per cent of adult asthma is work-related), fumes, stress, overuse of antibiotics in early childhood, extreme cold weather and bad relationships have all been shown to increase the risk of asthma in people with sensitive (hyperallergic) airways.
Asthma has risen by 50 per cent worldwide in the past decade and most experts blame it on the way we live. Asthma is caused when an allergen or some other stress factor causes inflammation (swelling) in the airways. The airways get constricted and reduce air flow, making it difficult for a person to breathe. This causes symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
For people with sensitive airways, staying away from allergic triggers such as dust and pollution is often not enough. “It is usually a combination of factors that triggers an attack in susceptible people,” says Dr Rajesh Chawla, consultant chest specialist, Apollo Hospitals.
What’s worrying experts now is that a clutch of lifestyle factors such as long working hours, erratic eating habits and shift work are precipitating attacks in an increasing number of asthmatics. Studies have even linked asthma to emotional stress, with a Harvard School of Public Health study from India released earlier this week reporting that domestic violence, divorce, separation and unhappy relationships aggravated symptoms. “Asthma and emotions are intrinsically related. There is a functional link between emotion processing centres in the brain and physiological processes that cause the asthma symptoms,” said Dr Naval Vikram, assistant professor, Department of Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
The good news is that asthma can be controlled. Patients with moderate to severe asthma have to take long-term medication daily (for example, anti-inflammatory drugs) to control the underlying inflammation. If attacks occur, they can be treated with salbutamol inhalers (short-acting beta 2-agonists) that dilate the airways. “A combination of the inhaled steroid fluticasone propionate and the long-acting beta 2-agonist salmeterol is very effective,” says Dr Vikram.
The results show. “Hospital admissions related to asthma have gone down drastically in the past few years because people are getting their asthma treated,” says Dr Chawla.