ASTHMA is among the world’s major non-communicable diseases, having affected an estimated 262 million individuals and led to over 45,000 deaths in 2019, according to the World Health Organisation.

Consultant respiratory and internal medicine physician Dr Jurina Mohd Hassan said the prevalence of asthma in the adult population ranges between 3.4 per cent and 7.5 per cent nationwide.

She cited global reports last year that outlined nearly two million new cases of paediatric asthma caused by traffic-related air pollutants, particularly fossil fuel emissions from vehicles. 

“Those with asthma are at greater risk of breathing in small particles that could worsen their condition.”

Jurina added that the long term effects of air pollution, especially carbon monoxide (CO) emissions, on such patients include heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. 

“Some scientists suspect that air pollutants cause birth defects. I have seen an increase of asthma exacerbation cases in the urban population, more so during the haze.”

Jurina said such phenomena cause immediate and delayed effects on mortality, with more than 10,000 respiratory deaths recorded during 88 days of haze between 2000 and 2007, Bernama reported.

She suggested that asthma patients limit their time outdoors, especially from 11am to 8pm, during periods when high air pollution index levels are recorded.

Meanwhile, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Earth Sciences and Environment Department senior lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Shahrul Mohd Nadzir said odourless and colourless CO is produced during the incomplete burning of fossil fuels such as petrol, gas or coal. 

“When the gas enters through the respiratory system, it competes with oxygen to bind to the haemoglobin. Thus, our blood cannot efficiently carry oxygen throughout the body, especially to the brain. 


“If the CO level in the blood is high, organs and tissues would not receive enough oxygen to function properly, which could lead to serious health problems, including brain and internal organ damage.”

Mohd Shahrul said it is essential to install sensors in vehicles, houses and other frequented premises to prevent CO poisoning, adding that current Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things technologies have generated advanced sensors for real-time CO concentration detection.

Fatalities from CO poisoning are not unheard of in Malaysia.

It was reported in 2020 that three college students died from CO poisoning while another survived, following a leak in the exhaust system that pumped the gas into the car cabin on their way back from vacationing in Pulau Jerejak, Penang.

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