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Freezing temperatures and drier air conditions lead to many health problems. When the temperature drops, our body works overtime to stay warm, putting additional strain on our heart and lungs. Over the last few years, we have witnessed how the temperatures in India have drastically gone down. Furthermore, the carbon emissions recorded in cities like New Delhi and Bengaluru have persuaded conversations on how this polluted air threatens our lives.
Dipping temperatures and rising pollution are deadly, especially for those suffering from respiratory illnesses, making them even more vulnerable. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is among the most common respiratory conditions and, as per global reports, will be the leading cause of death by 2030 globally. According to the 2018 study published in The Lancet Global Health, India has 18 per cent of the world's population but shares 32 per cent of its COPD burden, making it a vital issue that needs attention and a strategy to deal with its spread.
COPD is essentially a condition that causes inflammation in the small bronchial tubes and air sacs in the lungs, responsible for the airflow. This disease generates symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and fatigue. COVID-19 has further aggravated respiratory issues and has put people with pre-existing respiratory issues at risk. Since COVID -19 is known to impact the lungs, COPD is an important co-morbidity and patients need to be extra careful. The good part is that COPD is treatable, and a treatment course is available to control and support COPD patients.
The advent of technology and medical research has helped patients comfortably live their lives over the years. However, as the effects of climate change worsen, the air is becoming more unbreathable coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, creating the conditions for a significant public health crisis. An existing respiratory illness such as COPD, along with constant toxic air exposure, can worsen their ordeal leading to an exacerbation. This exacerbation very often leads to increased OPD visits and hospitalizations.
Despite growing pollution-related factors, such patients can heave a sigh of relief due to various innovative advancements. From a perspective of ventilation, medical technologies such as non-invasive ventilation with cloud-connected technology are being introduced in the market to provide increased comfort to patients suffering from COPD. The British Lung Foundation has developed a KOALA device, which drastically prevents COPD flare-ups and keeps patients safe from life-threatening situations. The technology advancements, from inhaler-based bronchodilators and corticosteroid medications to mainstream tools to assist patients in self-monitoring and decision-making, have helped increase awareness and care opportunities to relieve patients with these chronic diseases. Today, healthcare brands are introducing devices for home care whereby patients can share their information remotely and get real-time access to care. In the next couple of years, we will witness a shift towards a care model increasingly centered on personal care adoption and the use of digital and web-based tools for healthcare.
While this progress is a good sign for everyone, proactive efforts are needed to stop the spread of COPD and help people gain access to critical care. At the same time, awareness related to COPD and other respiratory problems needs to be spread at every significant forum, apart from making it an essential part of India's healthcare strategy. Such initiatives will prove imperative for the health of generations to come.
(This article is authored by Dr. Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed)
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