Like every year around this time, this year too our capital’s air quality dropped to a ‘severe’ AQI reading of 426. This hazardous level of air pollution not only strongly impacts those with existing lung ailments but is also detrimental to others without this condition. Beyond seasonal low visibility and sore throats, air quality can have lasting effects on the health. And the worst, poor air quality along with smoking contributes heavily to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung condition which disproportionately affects Indians, but is not spoken about enough in our healthcare landscape. To add on to this, the waves of COVID-19 further contributed to an environment where people’s lung health is at an all-time low.
The burden and threat of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) constitutes a major public health challenge in India, contributing to a shocking 60% of all deaths. Though cardiovascular diseases have the highest fatality among these, chronic respiratory diseases like Asthma and COPD are responsible for nearly 12% of overall deaths. As of 2018, India had 18% of the world’s population, but 32% of the COPD cases.
Today, November 16, is observed as World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Day and so I would like to share my perspective about how we can effectively manage this ailment. COPD is a progressive illness that includes the conditions of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Patients generally have difficulty in breathing and experience symptoms that can have a negative impact on their quality of life. Now is the right time for us to take a step back, know about common symptoms of COPD like shortness of breath (dyspnea), coughing (especially with sputum production), constant fatigue, frequent respiratory infections and finally understand how to manage COPD to live a healthy life.
The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ is popular for a reason. By embracing series of lifestyle modifications, we can work together to reduce the prevalence of COPD in India. The top cause of COPD is smoking – whether you are a smoker or exposed to passive smoking, you are at a high risk of suffering from COPD. So its high time to quit smoking and adopt a healthy lifestyle. If the air pollution is severe, it’s safe to stay indoors or wear your masks or other protective equipment to prevent the ingestion of harmful fumes over the long term.
On a policy level, significant steps must be taken to curb the habit of smoking, whether it is through taxation, limited sales, or awareness programmes. Additionally, air pollution must be tackled at a systemic level, with an emphasis on well-developed public transport, strict action against polluting factories, and a ban on other polluting activities. While many of these are already underway and may take years, or even decades to show the effect, they must be treated as top priority in the agenda of the policy makers if we are to see a healthier next generation.
From a medical perspective, we need to focus on Disease Awareness, Diagnosis, Treatment and Adherence. While a lot of us are aware about respiratory diseases like asthma and pneumonia, COPD has been a silent killer for a long time. There is an urgent need for people to know more about COPD, from its causes to its symptoms and finally to its management. A primary route for treating COPD is the use of inhaler devices, where it is imperative for Doctors to emphasize on correct usage of these inhalers. To tackle this issue, Lupin has launched JAI (Joint Airways Initiative), the first digital platform for educating respiratory patients on correct inhalation techniques with an objective to improve the adherence and better manage the disease.
Finally, in addition to the means mentioned above, it is essential for patients to strictly adhere to the treatment prescribed by their medical professional.
The theme of this year’s COPD Day is “Your Lungs for Life”, and there is no better way for me to summarise that Everyone is born with only one set of lungs and keeping them healthy is integral to our wellbeing. It is never too early – or too late! – to begin taking better care of your lungs. Breathe in, breathe out, and go for it!
This article was first published in Financial Express Healthcare on 16th November 2022