Jamaica Gleaner / Do you know someone who has trouble breathing when they smell freshly cut grass, smoke, chemicals or dust? Then they may be among the more than 300 million people worldwide who suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – the topics for last week’s appointment.
Taking the lives of an estimated 3.9 out of every 100,000 Jamaicans in 2013, asthma is a genetic condition that is often less caused by environmental factors, but triggered by them instead. Often caused by inflammation of the airways leading to adverse airflow limitations, asthma causes a person living with the disease to hear wheezing or strange sounds when they breathe.
Explaining the causes of this disease was Internal Medicine and Pulmonology specialist from the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Paul Scott, who says that this condition may be as a result of sensitivity in the airways when there is a pungent smell in the air, whether from perfumes, paint, petrol or fogging, for example. This condition is impossible to outgrow, but with age the symptoms may subside.
Dr Scott explains that as people get older, their airways get larger, which makes it easier for air to pass through, which makes managing asthma a lot easier.
On the other hand, claiming the lives of an average two out of every 10,000 Jamaicans in 2013 alone, COPD is a progressive respiratory disease often causing the air sacs in the lungs to become less elastic, making it harder to breath.
Similar to emphysema, which is preventable, COPD is most commonly related to smoke exposure and atmospheric pollution. Dr Scott says after several years of exposure, a person may have difficulty breathing, which indicates that there is an inflammatory change/irritation occurring that results in permanent damage to the lung tissues.
This irreversible condition is often caused by long-term exposure to irritants, second-hand smoke, air pollution from dust and exhaustion or biomass exposure, namely wood smoke. Symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, bringing up phlegm or choking are all linked to COPD. But some of these symptoms are also experienced by asthmatics.
TREATMENT AND CONTROL
Both COPD and asthma can be treated and controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.
Dr Scott says that the best treatment for COPD is to stop smoking. He also advises that the person suffering from the condition should be removed from the environment that has the triggers, as well as seek medical care.
Some practical steps to fight this disease include, getting rid of dust, cleaning with a damp cloth, limiting the use of pungent cleaning agents, like bleach, and avoiding smoking tobacco and marijuana.
Treatments for asthma include reliever medication, such as nebuliser that may acutely stop the symptoms. Additionally, asthmatics can use controller medication like corticosteroids and rescue medication like inhalers.
Some practical management tips include limiting the use of strong perfumes and colognes and limiting the exposure to smoke and exhaust. But Dr Scott says paramount to successfully conquering this condition is making a habit of getting regular doctor check-ups.
The 6 p.m. Dr’s Appointment Facebook live segment, season 3’s new feature, saw viewers talking directly with Dr Scott.
– Join us next week Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on TVJ and Facebook live at 6 p.m. when we look at cataract, with Dr Neil McGill.
Doctor’s Appointment is a family and health-oriented television programme that is produced by Maverick Communications Limited.