The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Study shows lungs choked by smoke

Calcutta, May 2: On the eve of World Asthma Day, experts termed pollution the biggest obstacle in reining in the respiratory disease, increasing alarmingly in the city.

An ongoing study under the aegis of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) covering four cities has shown that about 300,000 people in Calcutta are victims of asthma.

'The results that have emerged so far are definitely very disturbing and environmental pollution in Calcutta, particularly caused by vehicular traffic, acts as a hindrance in controlling the disease,' said A.G. Ghoshal, the head of respiratory medicine at SSKM Hospital.

Ghoshal, who is part of the ICMR study, also underway in Delhi, Chennai and Chandigarh, also said that once it is complete, Calcutta could emerge as the asthma capital.

Pavan Agarwal, a respiratory disease expert, feels that many cities like Delhi have vastly reduced asthma causes like pollution. 'But that has not happened in Calcutta. It must be understood that asthma is a combination of genetic (60 per cent) and environment (40 per cent) factors, but if one takes the high level of suspended particulate matter (SPM) into account, Calcutta beats most cities hands down.'

The seriousness of the situation can also be measured by the fact that a just-completed study by the pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, has shown Calcutta as a major asthma-occurrence centre.

The sample study covered about 800-1,000 people on an average in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, among seven others. In Calcutta, it covered over 2,000 people.

A striking point, said doctors involved in the study in Calcutta, was that over 52 per cent of patients reporting acute asthma thought their disease was under control. About 60 per cent of them reported daytime symptoms and sleep disturbances at least once a week. About 85 per cent used quick-relief medications.

'We found that the patients' perception of asthma was totally different from the actual. The lack of awareness and the combination of pollution and genetic factors is causing a serious hazard,' said a GlaxoSmithKline official.

Asthma causes acute breathing problems when the airway in the lungs gets blocked. During an asthma attack, cell mucous formation leads to clogging and swelling of the air tubes and muscles around the tubes tighten up.

Desperate to prevent it, doctors are using a new medicine from the bronchodilator group popularly known as Acuhalers ' used for relaxing muscles in small air passages in the lungs. Agarwal said: 'This helps to open up the airways. The effect lasts for about 12 hours, which is very good in severe asthma cases.'

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