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Living with asthma and COPD
Any sort of change in weather, be it a spike in temperature, a dust storm or a thunderstorm, could trigger an asthma attack for some of the world’s 235 million sufferers. It’s essential to know the triggers and some of the ways to minimise symptoms.
How air quality impacts COPD
Weather and air pollution are two of the most common triggers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma symptoms, but unfortunately are also the most difficult to control.
Research by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America shows that four in 10 asthmatics are more likely to have an acute episode on high pollution summer days than on other normal days. Asthma UK reports that two-thirds of asthmatics say poor air quality makes their condition worse.
Unfortunately, the climates in Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai, UAE, are not ideal for people with respiratory conditions, and all three have other causes of asthma, such as high pollution levels. “The weather conditions in the UAE can trigger and aggravate asthma because of the high level of humidity and extensive use of uncleaned central air-conditioning systems in houses or offices that haven’t been cleaned,” says Dr Trilok Chand, of Burjeel Hospital, UAE.
Humidity is thought to carry more pollutants and moulds into the air and also make it more difficult to breath because the air itself is heavier. Industrial growth is another factor; the government of Hong Kong says street-level pollution and regional smog are its biggest pollution challenges, and urges people to check its live air quality index before going outside. In urban parts of Thailand, factory and vehicle pollution create a layer of smog that irritates the airways and lungs.
Sandstorms are another issue, especially in desert environments like Dubai. Dr Chand says the number of asthma patients visiting hospitals spikes during and after a sandstorm, when the quality of air is at its worst.
How to minimise and manage your symptoms
Make sure air-conditioning units are professionally cleaned and invest in an air purifier for the home or office.
Unfortunately, there’s little to be done about the quality of outdoor air and some experts say protective face masks do more harm than good for asthmatics because they make it more difficult to breath.
There are many websites providing live readings of a city’s air quality so check these before spending time outside.
When you do go out, try to limit moving from hot and humid outdoor areas to cool, air-conditioned indoor areas or cars as this irritates the airways. Reducing soft furnishings in your home will reduce the number of dust mites, a common asthma trigger.
Always carry your inhaler and asthma medications, and if you’re travelling somewhere new, take enough supplies to last the trip.
How to help someone in trouble
An asthma attack can take days to build so it’s important to know the symptoms.
These include chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. If you’re with someone who’s having an attack it’s important to stay calm and keep the person sat upright with an open chest.
If there are any obvious triggers around such as pets or smokers, or you know of any other allergies they might have, remove the person from that situation. Asthma UK recommends taking one puff of a reliever inhaler every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs, and if things don’t improve, call an ambulance.
Where to find more information
Check local websites for up-to-date weather reports and air quality information. Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai all have good public and private hospitals, so if you’re concerned about your asthma, see a doctor straight away.