Tribune News Service
Jalandhar, November 16
Despite majority of the districts in the state being declared a tobacco-free zone, there has been an upsurge in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the region. The disease is caused due to tobacco inhalation and air pollution.
In Jalandhar alone, a large number of COPD cases have been reported in the last few months. Medical experts say it is as dreaded as HIV because it is difficult to identify at the first instance. There is no treatment and the person finally dies of respiratory failure.
“It is a progressive lung disease that typically worsens with time. It blocks airflow and makes breathing difficult. It causes severe damage to the lungs which cannot be reversed. However, with treatment, we can control the symptoms and minimise further damage,” said Dr HJ Singh, an eminent chest physician and chairman of the Indian Chest Society, Punjab. He said that the COPD is a major cause of mortality and morbidity.
The disease is spreading fast in Jalandhar due to increase in smoking and tobacco inhalation. The city has a high number of migrant workers who are habitual tobacco users. Students from different areas studying in various colleges of the city also indulge in smoking out of peer and lifestyle influences.
According to World Health Organisation, it is estimated that COPD would be the third leading cause of death by 2030. “Outdoor air pollution (such as ambient air pollution or traffic-related air pollution) and indoor air pollution (such as second-hand smoking and biomass fuel combustion exposure) are associated with the development of COPD,” said Dr Singh.
The WHO estimates that in 2005, 5.4 million people died due to tobacco use. Tobacco-related deaths are projected to increase to 8.3 million per year by 2030. The international health body also stated that outdoor air pollution was a significant environmental trigger for acute exacerbation of COPD, leading to increase in symptoms, emergency department visits, hospital admissions and even mortality.
Improving ambient air pollution and decreasing indoor biomass combustion exposure by improving home ventilation are effective measures that may substantially improve the health of the general public. During winter season, the problem becomes more acute and that is why nowadays, various hospitals in the city are getting a large number of the COPD patients every day.
COPD usually occurs in people who have smoked or continue to smoke cigarettes. Passive smokers are equally affected. Women who do most of the cooking for households in rural villages are the most affected. Air pollution due to industrialisation, traffic-related irritants or burning the crop residues in Punjab contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Many people still use biomass and coal as their main source of energy for cooking, heating and other household needs. Other risk factors for COPD include occupational dusts and chemicals (such as vapours, irritants and fumes), gases present in air such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The most common symptoms are sputum production, shortness of breath and productive cough.
Keeping in view the present scenario, Dr Singh said it was extremely important to take steps to improve indoor air quality. During the coming winter season, it would be better to avoid outdoor exposure and to stay indoors when the air quality is poor, keeping windows closed and doing exercises in the morning, when air pollution levels are lower. Significant environmental measures are needed to be taken, he added.
Many a times, COPD is misdiagnosed and treated as Asthma. However, it is entirely a different entity. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. Therefore, it is advised if any of the symptoms are noticed, patient should visit a chest physician immediately.
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