Even as climate models have indicated an increasing heatwave this summer for India, people suffering from asthma, a respiratory disease, may be at significant risk, said experts here on World Asthma Day. World Asthma Day is an annual event observed on the first Tuesday of May, aimed at raising awareness about asthma, a chronic respiratory disease affecting millions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 339 million people suffer from asthma globally, and the number is expected to rise to 400 million by 2025.
“Heatwaves can be a challenging time for individuals with asthma, as extreme heat can worsen symptoms and trigger an asthma attack,” Dr Nikhil Modi, Senior Consultant, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, told IANS.
“The high temperatures and increased humidity can cause airways to become inflamed and constricted, making it difficult to breathe. This can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness,” he added.
Moreover, hot weather also increases the levels of air pollutants, such as ozone, which can further aggravate asthma symptoms. The global climate crisis is fuelling heat waves to become more frequent, intense, and lethal in India.
In 2022, India experienced its hottest April in 122 years and its hottest March on record. And it experienced extreme weather on 242 out of 273 days between January and October 2022, revealed a recent study by Cambridge University.
The study also showed that about 90 percent of India is in the “extremely cautious” or “danger” zone from heat wave impact and almost all of Delhi is particularly vulnerable to severe heat wave impacts.
Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), last week, predicted above-average temperatures and heat waves until the end of May in the country. It said for states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Gangetic West Bengal, East Uttar Pradesh, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and coastal Gujarat, heatwave days “will be more than usual”.
To combat the effects of heatwaves on asthma, it is essential to take precautionary measures to minimise exposure to triggers. Health experts suggested people with asthma stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day, typically from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
“To stay protected, people with asthma should avoid exposure to extreme heat and humidity, stay hydrated, and keep their rescue inhaler with them at all times. Additionally, be sure to stay on top of your asthma management plan and regularly check in with your healthcare provider,” Ambarish Joshi, Senior Consultant, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, told IANS.
When outside, individuals with asthma should wear a mask or scarf over their mouth and nose to reduce exposure to pollutants and warm, moist air. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, the expert suggested.