Discarding the mask that has been acting as a shield against pollution, smoke, fumes and viruses over the last two years has been the primary factor, say experts. The number could rise as Covid norms slacken further over the next few weeks, it has been warned.
“We have seen a sharp rise in the number of COPD and asthma patients seeking consultations for a relapse over the last fortnight. Over the last two years, the number of patients suffering an exacerbation (worsening of their condition) had dropped to less than 10% since they always used a mask. It has already crossed 15% now and its rising everyday,” said Charnock Hospital pulmonologist Soumya Sengupta. He added that prior to the pandemic, around 20%-22% of asthma and COPD patients suffered a relapse at the onset of summer. “Wearing a mask and staying indoors improved their condition remarkably,” he said.
With vehicular traffic turning normal, pollution levels are high again and this has started affecting COPD and asthma patients, pointed out CMRI Hospital director of pulmonology Raja Dhar. “The PM2.5 count has crossed 150 at most places while it was less than 100 when Covid restrictions were on. This will affect COPD and asthma patients, most of whom have stopped wearing a mask. It would have been worse had this been the onset of winter, when pollution levels are higher,” said Dhar. He added that those with a history of breathing illness should continue wearing the mask.
Apart from viruses, pollens and pollution, change of temperature was the major reason behind breathing distress, said Sengupta. “In the case of asthma patients, a change in temperature is a major trigger but they were being protected against other factors by the mask. The sudden exposure has made them vulnerable again,” he said.
Masks help to keep dust pollution away, which is a major advantage for asthma patients, said Belle Vue Clinic internal medicine consultant Rahul Jain. “It also helps COPD patients and they will feel the difference if they remove the mask,” added Jain.