Asthma: Precautions that can save life

By Tumininu Ojelabi Hassan

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease, which affects about 15 million Nigerians and ranked highest in Africa.

Dr. Olawale Ogunlana, while speaking in an interactive session organised by described Asthma, as a chronic health condition and not an infectious disease, as this is the general misconception about asthma.

“Asthma is a condition that happens when a person is exposed to certain triggers that allow their lungs and every unit of the lungs to hyper-react in an abnormal manner. That is, the hyper reactivity of the airway or excessive inflammation of the airway and the lungs (the respiratory system).

“While a person can breathe in dust without a negative effect, when an asthmatic patient breathes in dust, it triggers an hyper inflammatory reaction. This means the lungs, bronchi and the airways becomes narrow, it becomes filled with mucus, which means air can’t pass through properly, as it ought to,” he explained.

According to Dr. Olawale, in the United States over 7 million people are diagnosed of asthma and across the world over 10 people die of asthma related attacks everyday.

“It is a very serious health condition, which requires awareness. Firstly, it is a life threatening condition if not managed properly but when managed properly, the chances of dying from this condition is extremely low.

Asthma can occur in two ways. Firstly, in childhood, which is referred to as the Early onset asthma or Pediatric asthma. This is detected in the early years and treatment commences from childhood. Secondly, the late onset bronchi asthma happens in adulthood,” he added.

In addition, he stated some factors that can cause and trigger asthmatic response.

“There are infections and viruses that can trigger asthmatic response. Also, smoking, dust from old books, foods that contain sulfites, which are usually found in beers and red wines. Genetic predisposition can also cause asthma.

If someone has a family member, who is asthmatic, the chances are very high that if the person doesn’t take precautions, at a point, this person will manifest asthma symptoms, especially if the person is exposed to certain triggers that might lead to hyper inflammatory response of the lungs and the airway.

“There are drugs that can trigger asthma, for instance, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). People with a history of asthma should avoid drugs like Diclofenac, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Aspirin. That’s why we counsel patients against self medication, as some drugs can trigger asthmatic response in some people and can lead to death if it happens in an environment without emergency care. It can also be triggered by cockroaches,” he said.

Asthma is of three types. The Allergic asthma, Non-allergic asthma, and Occupational asthma. Non- allergic asthma is triggered by irritants in the air, like tobacco smoke, wood smoke and perfumes, while the occupational asthma usually affects factory workers this is because there are certain chemicals that can trigger asthmatic reactions.

Occupational asthma is a subset of bronchi asthma, it can also be classified as late onset asthma as it happens in adulthood. It is important to note that there are certain things that we come in contact with that can result to an hyper reaction, that is, the lungs restricts airflow and this is known as bronchi asthma.

According to Dr. Olawale, symptoms of asthma include, wheezing, difficulty breathing, cough and chest pain.

Speaking on the misconception of asthma in Nigeria, he said, “It is a common practice in Nigeria that people fear what they do not understand. That’s why it’s important to educate people properly to know what certain diseases are, how they present and the best thing to do.

When an Asthmatic patient is exposed to dust or engaged in excessive exercise, then the symptoms start to manifest. Instead of giving the person breathing space or understanding that this person is probably wheezing, they pour water on the person, which can be counter-productive because the person might inhale the water.

Due to the desperation to inhale, the person inhales the water, the water gets into the airway and chokes the person, this is referred to as aspiration pneumonitis. What people consider as help is not help, they are literally killing the person but most people are unaware of this.

“The first symptom to notice when a person has an asthma attack is that the person is gasping for air. In the process, the nose and mouth are flared. Once this is noticed, give the person space; also he/she should be put in a sitting position, where the person breathe in properly and deeply. If there is an inhaler, it should be administered immediately.

“There’s no point gathering around someone, who is asthmatic as this can restrict the air from getting to the person. There’s no need to put spoon in the person’s mouth and do not hold the person’s neck. The second thing to notice when an asthma attack happens is wheezing.This is a rough breathing sound.

In addition, there will be chest tightness and the person might complain of chest pain. If the person is wearing any tight fitting clothes, take the clothes off. Tight fitting clothes won’t allow proper excursion of the chest, that is, to breathe properly,” he stated.

He spoke on the role of the health care providers in creating awareness about asthma in Nigeria.

“Education is the primary way to reverse ignorance. We need to orient people properly and ensure they are exposed to the right information in the context they can understand. I understand that we need to keep our government accountable but the change starts with us.

“This motivated me to start shooting videos, which I post on social media because I realised social media can be used for social good because it gives you the opportunity to reach out to a large audience. Social media is an effective tool for education. I have decided to educate people on the dangers of certain behaviors and how to handle proper emergencies.

“To some extent, organisational bodies and the government are partnering with healthcare providers like us to push and establish this message out there. The National Orientation Agency is supposed to take the lead in orientating Nigerians on every sphere of life to improve their decision making.

“Healthcare professionals are constantly dedicating their time for quality public health advocacy. The least we can do is to spread the right information, as there are more myths than scientific facts in the country. We have a role to play. We should educate one another, open our minds to new knowledge and share this knowledge with our local community.”

Dr. Olawale added that Asthma can be well managed but can’t be cured. “If the person doesn’t come in contact with the triggers, with proper management, it is possible for an asthmatic patient to live normally. It never goes away, at some point it might happen again. If people can take proactive measures, identify their stressors and triggers and live proper lifestyle, it can be well managed.

“As of today, there is no cure to Asthma, maybe in a few years from now if the gene editing technology is advanced because we have heard of the advent of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which is the gene editing technology that helps to replace negative defects in our genes that cause certain chronic conditions. With the rise of AI and AI sensitised medications, we might get to a stage whereby Asthma can be defeated permanently.

The Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTS) has advocated for education and better care for asthmatic patients as an intrinsic procedure to control the aggravating effects of asthma in Nigeria. This was disclosed at the celebration of World Asthma day which held on May 2nd, 2023.


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