Asthma is the number one chronic respiratory disease in the world. In Mexico, it is estimated that five to 10 percent of the population suffers from it, says Jorge Salas Hernández, an academic from the Graduate Studies Division of the UNAM School of Medicine. He explains that the prevalence varies by region; for example, in the coastal areas of southeastern Mexico, there are more cases, close to 10 percent of the population.
"At sea level, there is a humid environment that favors the development of more particles known as allergens, which when breathed by susceptible people, cause the disease to get out of control," he explains on the occasion of World Asthma Day, which is commemorated on the first Tuesday of May.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this disease is characterized by the narrowing of the airways leading to the lungs due to inflammation and compression of the muscles surrounding the fine airways. This causes coughing, wheezing, dyspnea - a feeling of shortness of breath - and chest tightness.
The symptoms are intermittent and the factors that aggravate the disease vary from one individual to another, among which are: dust, smoke, gases, weather changes, pollen, fur, and animal feathers. In general terms, there are two times greater risks for the uncontrolled spread of this condition: seasons of high environmental pollution and those of humidity and/or rain.
Worldwide there are approximately 262 million people with asthma, according to the WHO. It is estimated that in 2019 it caused about 461,000 deaths, 80 percent occurring in low and/or lower-middle-income nations.
Therefore, this year, on World Asthma Day, groups dedicated to the care of this health problem will work around the slogan "Closing gaps in asthma care", to raise their voices to improve the care of sufferers, seek early diagnosis, make proper use of diagnostic tests and promote access to the different medications that exist.
The education of patients, their families, and health personnel will be promoted. It is important to avoid misconceptions such as that it is only found in children, that it is of infectious origin, and that it represents limitations to performing common activities such as exercise; a controlled patient can lead a normal life.
"The reality is that asthma can affect people of any age, including the elderly; infections are not its cause, but they do control it and an asthma patient can exercise without problems", he asserts. The UNAM academic calls for the promotion of adequate medical attention from family medicine to high specialty; the use of inhaled medications.
Access to asthma treatment
The WHO also states that there is no cure, but adequate treatment with inhaled medications can help control the disease. Some patients may need to use an inhaler daily and their treatment will depend on the frequency of symptoms and the different types of inhalers available.
There are two main ones: bronchodilators (such as salbutamol), which free the airways and relieve symptoms; and steroids (such as beclomethasone), which reduce airway inflammation, improving asthma symptoms and reducing the risk of severe attacks and death.
However, the international health agency acknowledges, that access to these is a problem in many countries. In 2019, in low-income ones only half of people with asthma could count on a bronchodilator, and less than one in five had access to a steroid inhaler in primary health care facilities.
The first World Asthma Day was celebrated in 1998 in more than 35 countries in parallel with the first World Asthma Meeting in Spain. Each year participation increases and the event is a date to educate and raise awareness about this condition.