With so many advances in medical science, it’s natural to think that a condition like asthma would be curable or at least easily manageable. Basically an inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs, asthma can be triggered by smoke, dust, pollen, and other allergens and causes difficulty in breathing. An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, with 250,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease.1 Almost all of these deaths are avoidable.2
Asthma Deaths: Connecting the Dots
Asthma can be minor, allowing the patient to continue with daily activities, or it may flare up and lead to a life-threatening attack. Near-fatal asthma (NFA) and fatal asthma represent the most severe forms of asthma. Both require early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. The most common version of NFA, with a gradual deterioration over days and weeks, occurs when the asthma in itself is severe. This type of NFA accounts for 80‒85% of all fatal asthma events. Sadly, this is preventable and fatality is more due to delayed and insufficient treatment. NFA also has an acute version where respiratory failure occurs in a matter of hours. Yet if diagnosed and treated quickly, such patients have a faster rate of improvement.3
Fatal asthma is preventable. The reason for asthma deaths is mainly attributed to two reasons – failure by patient and healthcare providers to correctly gauge the severity of the disease (underdiagnosis) and failure to respond to an attack with the level of treatment required (undertreatment).4 Several studies have explored the link between diagnostic challenges and the consequent fatality in asthmatics, especially among children and the elderly. According to one study, the majority of those dying from asthma are aged over 55 years.5
The World Health Organization also lists failure in using appropriate medication or adhering to treatment as reasons for asthma deaths.6
Interestingly, asthma mortality has also been closely linked to poverty. In the United States, death rates are higher, as much as 4‒6 times higher for African-Americans and Hispanics as compared to Whites. Further, there is a concentration in urban inner-city areas, thought to be due to poor living conditions, inadequate access to good healthcare, and lack of education about disease prevention.7
Reining in Asthma
Asthma deaths can be avoided through prompt, appropriate, and timely medical care. Seek out medical attention and follow guidelines provided by the doctor when you have an asthma episode.
Reasons for the onset of asthma may vary from person to person but all asthmatics have triggers. When the airway of an asthma patient comes in contact with a trigger (pollen, dust, food allergy, mold, etc), it becomes inflamed, leading to a wheezing or coughing attack. The key to reducing the incidence and severity ‒ and potentially fatal consequences ‒ of an asthma attack is identifying your triggers. This will help you keep your asthma under control and also limit the impact it has on your daily routine.
Suggestions to Help Manage Your Asthma Better
Keep a Diary
Note down when each attack occurred and what could be the possible triggers in your environment. According to a study by Beasley and Crane, asthma self-management plans can help reduce asthma mortality. This is a process wherein “asthma patients modify their treatment in response to self-assessment of the severity of their asthma [and it] involves the integration of self-assessment and self-management… Fundamental to the success of this strategy is the ability of patients to recognize a deterioration in their asthma.”8
Keep Your Personal Hygiene Levels Up
Wash your hands regularly to prevent catching a cold, flu or any similar infection from people you come in contact with.
Keep Your Home and Office Allergen Free
Reduce the chances of getting an attack in known territory by making sure you have removed dust, pollen, mites, smoke, cold air, or anything else that may be your trigger.
Keep Your Medication Handy and Regular
Take your flu shots on time and keep your quick-fix medication like inhalers always handy.
And finally, explore various treatments and lifestyle guidelines offered by Naturopathy, Ayurveda and Yoga. For centuries they have been used to treat asthma and keep it under control so that one may lead a normal life with this chronic disease.
|↑1, ↑2||Asthma Statistics, American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.|
|↑3||Restrepo, Ruben D., and Jay Peters. “Near-fatal asthma: recognition and management.” Current opinion in pulmonary medicine 14, no. 1 (2008): 13-23.|
|↑4, ↑7, ↑8||Fatal Asthma, Partners Asthma Center.|
|↑5||Gillman, Andrew, and Jo A. Douglass. “Asthma in the elderly.” Asia Pacific Allergy 2, no. 2 (2012): 101-108.|
|↑6||Asthma, World Health Organization.|