WHO estimates 235M people currently suffer from asthma

KARACHI: WHO in a report estimates that 235 million people currently suffer from asthma. Asthma is the most common noncommunicable disease among children. Asthma is a public health problem not just for high-income countries; it occurs in all countries regardless of the level of development. Most asthma-related deaths occur in low- and lower-middle income countries. Asthma is under-diagnosed and under-treated. It creates substantial burden to individuals and families and often restricts individuals’ activities for a lifetime.

According to the report, the fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental exposure to inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways. Other triggers can include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. Even certain medications can trigger asthma: aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers (which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and migraine).

Urbanization has been associated with an increase in asthma. But the exact nature of this relationship is unclear. Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disease and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life. Short-term medications are used to relieve symptoms. Medications such as long-term inhaled steroids are needed to control the progression of severe asthma.

People with persistent symptoms must take long-term medication daily to control the underlying inflammation and prevent symptoms and exacerbations. Inadequate access to medicines is one of the important reasons for the poor control of asthma in many settings. Medication is not the only way to control asthma. It is also important to avoid asthma triggers – stimuli that irritate and inflame the airways. With medical support, each asthma patient must learn what triggers he or she should avoid.

Although asthma does not kill on the scale of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic diseases, failure to use appropriate medications or to adhere to treatment can lead to death. WHO recognizes that asthma is of major public health importance. The Organization plays a role in coordinating international efforts against the disease. The aim of its strategy is to support Member States in their efforts to reduce the disability and premature death related to asthma.

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