India holds between fifteen and twenty million asthma sufferers. Recent evidence suggests one in ten asthma patients reside in India. This can be seen as indicative of a wider crisis surrounding environmental health in India.
Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children worldwide. The cost of managing the condition is thought to exceed tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.
The disease is known to be aggravated by environmental factors. In India, environmental pollution is a major concern for healthcare in the country. The prevalence of areas exceeding dangerous levels of pollution may explain the high numbers of those suffering from asthma.
World Health Organization (WHO) data recently revealed fourteen of the world’s fifteen most polluted cities are in India. Indian cities make up the first fourteen entries of the list. This suggests India is the most polluted nation in the world.
This pollution is by no means limited to urban areas. Rural environments have also been found to have high levels of pollution, with some sources of pollution in these areas potentially being more damaging than the smog typical to cities.
Indoor stoves burning biomass fuels are a considerable source of pollution in India and are a significant threat to health. Typically existing and operating in the close confines of the home, these stoves can cause an individual to inhale a considerable amount of fumes and smoke. Their long-term use can cause severe lung damage.
The causes of asthma are linked to genetics, as the condition is hereditary. European nations typically have a higher rate of asthma in proportion to the population due to its hereditary nature. However, India is seeing increasing numbers of asthma patients in recent years.
Environmental factors play a large role in whether those with the condition live out relatively normal lives or suffer frequent asthma attacks. “The genetic factors interact with environmental factors such as pollution to trigger asthma. Also viral infections and obesity acts as a trigger for asthma among the teenagers,” said Dr Subhra Mitra, head of the Department of Pulmonology at Calcutta National Medical College.
Asthma attacks are characterised by a shortness of breath, often accompanied by wheezing or coughing. The attacks are caused by inflammation constricting the airways and limiting the capacity of the lungs to take in oxygen, causing shortness of breath. A severe asthma attack may limit breathing capacity to the point that breathing becomes almost impossible. This can result in mortality due to limited oxygen intake.
Dr Mitra notes that awareness and infrastructure to treat asthma are increasing in India. He also mentions that the provision of less expensive medication is vital to ensuring India is able to deal with the increasing number of asthma patients.