Blame it on the sudden drop in temperature along with an increase in the levels of air pollution that every other Delhi resident these days is seen sneezing, coughing or having troubles breathing.
According to doctors, the cold and damp air — laced with pollutants — that normally marks the onset of winter, exposes individuals to various infections, mostly related to the respiratory tract.
“Falling sick in this weather is linked purely to temperature change that triggers various respiratory problems. People are sensitive to changes in temperature and their body’s defenses are weakest in cold weather, which leads to aggravation of asthma and bronchitis symptoms and can also lead to simple cough, throat irritation and burning sensation in eyes among perfectly healthy people,” said Dr JC Suri, head, department of pulmonology and sleep medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.
Over the past one week, there has been a jump in number of patients coming to the city hospitals and clinics with respiratory illnesses.
Most of these patients come in with symptoms as mild as cold and cough, chest pain or nausea. In some cases, however, patients have complained of severe wheezing, shortness of breath and bronchitis.
“There has been a drop in temperature and an increase in pollution due to trapping of pollutants such as oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon-monoxide in the atmosphere. Add to that the circulating viruses and bacteria in the air and the situation becomes ideal for catching infections,” said Dr AB Dey, professor, department of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Every time one breathes in polluted air, it irritates the airway and causes inflammation. With less air getting in due to constricted airway, one may experience shortness of breath, wheezing, cough and other related symptoms.
Nasal allergy, asthma, chronic bronchitis, smokers lungs are some of the conditions that people tend to develop in this weather.
“It is difficult to avoid falling sick in this weather unless one takes sufficient precautions, which is why we recommend taking flu and pneumonia vaccine shots well in advance,” said Dr Suri.
“Every year, a new vaccine is introduced around August that is apt to deal with muted influenza viral strain. For those who already suffer from respiratory illnesses, it is advisable to take the vaccine shot,” added Dr Suri.
Since it is not practically possible to have control over the changing weather; one should take as much precaution as possible. Apart from taking the vaccine shot, doctors suggest avoiding cold by staying indoors as far as possible.
Those on medication must consult their doctor in order to intensify their medicine dose; some might even need a short course of antibiotics.
Wearing warm clothes is a must for the vulnerable group even though temperatures are not cold enough yet for woolens.
“It’s a period when you’ll feel cold if you don’t wear woolens and you feel warm if you wear woolens. It’s a tricky period but it’s better to start wearing woolens early than falling sick,” said Dr Dey.
Other precautionary measures include, using warm water for bathing, avoiding consumption of chilled liquids, especially at night and not exposing yourself to the cold in the very early hours or very late in the evening when the temperature is at its lowest.
Apart from those already suffering from respiratory illnesses, children, old and immuno-compromised people are at a higher risk, as their respiratory system and defence mechanism is not as robust as young people.
In infants one may notice slow feeding or shortness of breath during feeds. Toddlers with asthmatic symptoms should avoid playing out as they would get fatigued easily and start coughing when performing any physical activity.
Keep note of changes in the child’s condition and take him/her to a doctor the moment symptoms aggravate.