Dust pollution leading cause of rise in asthma in Karachi

Updated 02 May 2017


GARBAGE being burnt in the open in a city locality.—White Star
GARBAGE being burnt in the open in a city locality.—White Star

KARACHI: Increased dust pollution due to road repair/construction is creating serious health problems for asthma patients, as a large number of them are reporting to hospitals, said health experts on Monday. Prolonged exposure to polluted air was a leading cause of asthma, said the experts while speaking to Dawn on the eve of World Asthma Day.

“Asthma is on the rise in the city due to multiple factors including dust pollution. It’s also affecting people with sensitive eyes or those already vulnerable to any kind of allergy. Everybody needs proper protection from increased dust pollution, especially those [who] are directly exposed to it,” said Dr Kamran Khan of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s (JMPC) chest department.

Often the patients included motorcyclists, bus commuters and pedestrians, he added.

According to him, over 800 asthma patients are registered with the JPMC; these patients are visiting the facility more frequently these days with complaints of nasal/eye discharge, coughing and wheezing. Many patients are directly reporting to the emergency department with severe asthma attack.

“An asthma attack can result in respiratory failure and the patient will then be put on a ventilator. Given the fact that ventilator facility is available at a few public sector hospitals, one can imagine how dust pollution affects public health in profound ways,” he said.

In reply to a question about how one could protect oneself against dust pollution, he said personal protective measures such as covering one’s nose and mouth, frequent face wash and nose cleaning, gargling with warm water and steam inhalation, helped a great deal, but asthma patients must properly use inhalers.

Seconding his opinion, Dr Saifullah Baig at the Ojha Institute of Chest Diseases (OICD) said asthma was on the rise across the world and its increase had been linked to modern lifestyle. According to him, other risk factors included exposure to hazardous fumes and smoke from factories, restaurants and even homes where firewood is used for heating/cooking purpose.

He said industrial masks were far more effective to avoid dust pollution than the surgical masks which some people had started using in recent years. “Unfortunately there is hardly any awareness about it. Such masks should be readily available,” he noted.

Dr Javaid A. Khan, consultant chest physician at the Aga Khan University Hospital, said it’s not surprising that the number of asthmatics was increasing in Karachi, ranked among the top-most polluted cities in the world by WHO last year.

He said: “We eat food thrice a day but breathe air every few seconds. All things that pollute air tend to aggravate asthma whether it is road work or the garbage being burnt openly. We see factories operating in densely populated areas which badly affect lungs’ health. Our public places are full of tobacco smoke that makes life of asthma patient very difficult because their airways are very sensitive.”

Little awareness

Experts also showed concern over the extremely low level of awareness about asthma and misconceptions surrounding inhaler use as indicated by a study involving the AKUH, the JPMC, Civil Hospital Karachi and OICD.

According to the research covering 400 respondents, 19 per cent participants thought that asthma was a psychological disorder while 45pc considered it an infectious disease. Nearly 57pc participants believed that inhaled medications had significant side effects and 25pc believed that syrups and tablets work as effectively as inhalers.

Around 66pc considered steam inhalation to be an effective treatment for asthma. Misconceptions about diet and asthma were common.

Over 42pc considered milk as a common trigger for asthma, while 67pc thought that patients with asthma should avoid rice in their diet.

In another study, 58pc patients concurred that they were not compliant with the usage of inhalers and frequently missed their doses. Similarly, 33pc patients had the misconception that inhalers were prescribed for severe diseases only. Forty per cent patients said they would prefer oral medicines over inhalers for management of lung diseases.

“These misconceptions not only lead to poor compliance with prescribed medications but also to frequent visits to hospitals. There is a need to educate patients regarding inhalers to improve not only their symptoms but also to improve their quality of life,” the study concludes.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017