Bukola Kolawole was 4 years old when her parents discovered she was asthmatic. She was taken to the hospital for special care and the parents were told what to do to manage her condition. However, at 25, she discovered that she’s no longer asthmatic
“I had always followed my doctor’s instructions and I discovered recently that I’ve not had any attack. Dealing with asthma especially during harmattan season can be very difficult because one has to keep herself warm, you don’t expose yourself to cold, take warm bath, drink warm water to keep safe and follow doctor’s prescriptions,” Bukola said.
Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person. During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swells, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs.
According to Professor Eruka Egbagbe of the Department of Medicine, University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin, said, “Asthma can come at any age. If it comes early, it’s possible that one outgrows it as he/she ages. There are people who present with asthma. I know someone who is over 80 years old who came in with asthma symptoms.”
Asthma being the most common non-communicable disease among children affects 235 million people globally, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Prof. Egbagbe said, Asthma is no longer an uncommon condition, “it’s now a common problem affecting people of all age groups, both make and female. The prevalence in Nigeria is put at 5-10 per cent; which means that in every 100 persons, between 5 and 10 persons may be asthmatic.
“Though, we are from a developing country and asthma is not expected to be so high. However, asthma has been linked with sophistication and westernisation.”
The don said, the more westernised the people get, the more asthmatic they become. “For instance, if you look at the villages and cities, you will see that there are more asthma in the city compared to the villages. Hence, it’s clear and agreed that asthma is a disease of westernisation and it’s not surprising. Our people are adapting western lifestyles, they are eating more can-foods instead of eating vegetables from the farm, they are eating more beef, suya, chicken, roasted beef and all these contribute to the prevalence of asthma in Nigeria.”
Egbagbe said The 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.
Explaining, she said, “some people have asthma in the family so there’s a tendency for their children to be asthmatic and if you have gas cooker in your home, the more tendency for the children to become asthmatic. So, it’s an interplay of genetic and environmental factors contributing to developing asthma.”
Other triggers of asthma, according to WHO are indoor allergens (for example house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander);
outdoor allergens (such as pollens and moulds);
tobacco smoke; and chemical irritants in the workplace.
Others include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. “In some people, asthma can even be triggered by certain medications, such as 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 also been associated with an increase in asthma, however the exact nature of this relationship is unclear.”
Although asthma cannot be cured, it can be controlled.
The expert advised that, “if you’re asthmatic, you need to see a specialist who will treat you properly and give advice on how to recognise the clinical symptoms that the asthma is getting severe. If you have a child who is wheezing, don’t take the child to the chemist or to the native doctor, take the child to the hospital; it may cost money but it will save life in the long run.”
She said, “Asthma cannot be cured but it’s controllable. When you see a doctor and telling you what to do. What to do to manage the disease and what to do to relieve yourself when attack comes.”
She decried lack of awareness on asthma. “Our people should be made to know what asthma is. There’s no much awareness on asthma. People don’t want to talk about it. People want to hide asthma. Asthma can’t be hidden because of the associated wheeze.
“Even the death from asthma is not reducing, it’s still the same as when I went to school. Most asthmatic death happen outside the hospital because when they get into the hospital, help will be given.”
The world health body says, “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,” said WHO .