MUMBAI: Rising pollution levels in the city and rapid change in day temperatures have led to a significant rise in the number of individuals affected by respiratory problems, and the situation has persisted well beyond the winter season, doctors say.
The chest and fever OPDs of public and private hospitals continue to see a massive number of patients with respiratory complaints like lingering cough, cold, runny nose, wheezing, throat irritation, and breathing difficulties. Doctors said both children and adults are severely affected by these respiratory issues, with an estimated 5-10% requiring hospitalisation.
Dr Salil Bendre, head of pulmonary medicine at Nanavati Hospital, said his OPD rush has tripled in past few weeks. About 60% come with persistent dry cough and throat irritation, which in selected cases progress to wheezing and even breathlessness. "The worst sufferers are asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients who come with active disease despite being on medication," he said. According to him, the city's worsening pollution levels combined with a sudden shift in temperatures (maximum rising from 17 to 37 degrees C) in weeks could have contributed to the health problems.
A few weeks ago, an 8-year-old girl arrived at the emergency department of JJ Hospital, Byculla, struggling to breathe. The girl, an asthmatic taking medication regularly, had gone on a school field trip, but exposure to dust during the outing led to a severe asthma attack. Dr Sushant Mane, associate professor of pediatrics, said they have admitted over a dozen kids since December with respiratory problems. "Continued exposure to pollution, or allergic rhinitis along with pollution can trigger asthma," he said, adding that even viral infections were leaving a residual cough for 1-2 months, which is also leading to sleep issues in children.
Dr Sanjeev Ahuja, pediatrician at L H Hiranandani Hospital, said they are treating many children with high fever and a bad hacking cough lasting two weeks or more and flu-like symptoms. "Recurring cold and cough suggest hyper reactive airways. Many children need nebulisation and inhaled corticosteroid treatment," he said, blaming over-crowding, air pollution and lack of masking as the contributing factors.
In many cases, doctors are suspecting Covid but they turn to be negative, said Dr Nitin Karnik, head of medicine at Sion Hospital. They have found influenza A and H3N2 responsible for several infections.

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