No breathing room

Growing air pollution and shrinking greenery have contributed to Bangalore emerging India’s asthma capital. Studies show that around 25.6 per cent of children living in Bangalore suffer from asthma. This is a sharp increase from a little over 30 years ago, when 9 per cent of children were asthmatic. Asthma is often taken rather lightly. But this is an illness that not only causes acute discomfort to the patient but also, it can kill. Around a quarter million people die of asthma annually across the world, most of these deaths are in developing countries. Studies have revealed the role that genetics and environmental factors play in triggering asthma. Tobacco smoke and low air quality are known to cause it. Children who grow up in families with cigarette smokers are likely to have more frequent and severe attacks. Bangalore weather is often described as making people prone to asthma. The high pollen content of its atmosphere is known to trigger allergies which often culminate in an asthmatic attack. But it is not so much its weather as it is the pollution that triggers these attacks. Bangalore’s air is highly polluted thanks to industrial and vehicle emission and little is being done by the government or the public to address this. More importantly, the city, once famous for its gardens, has little greenery to boast off today. In the absence of parks, fresh air and exercise are difficult, increasing vulnerability to asthma.

Children are most vulnerable to asthma. Yet few schools are equipped with facilities to treat students who have an attack in school. Last year, a student in one of India’s most prestigious schools died of an asthma attack while in school as medical help did not reach her quickly enough. If this is the situation in an elite school, one can imagine how vulnerable asthmatic children in other schools are. Attacks are sometimes triggered by excessive physical exercise, especially in winter. Yet asthmatic children are sometimes forced to exercise in schools. Teachers need to be educated on this disease, its causes, symptoms and prevention. They must be taught to recognise symptoms of a major attack and to respond quickly in an emergency.

Asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism and among the leading reasons for hospitalisation of children. Its growing incidence in Bangalore has not been taken seriously so far. Public awareness on asthma needs to be improved and steps taken to prevent it.

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