Breathlessness occurring for the first time during the winter months’ individuals above the age of 40 should be assumed to be cardiac asthma
The winter months though awaited by many, bring with them a host of medical issues especially for young children, women and the elderly. It is important that awareness is raised about important prevention measures and warning signs to ensure good health during this period. Cardiac Asthma is one such hidden ailment, which often does, undetected and can prove to be life-threatening.
Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr. K K Aggarwal – President HCFI and Honorary Secretary General IMA said, “It is important to remember that any breathlessness after the age of 40, appearing for the first time in the winters, should be assumed to be cardiac asthma unless proved otherwise. Such patients should immediately have their blood pressure check-up done and if its high, immediate medical attention must be sought. A first-onset of breathlessness can also be an indication of angina or heart attack. However, winter asthma or acute exacerbation of winter COPD (chronic bronchitis) is more common”.
While asthma is a reversible airway obstruction, COPD is irreversible. Sudden exposure to cold, humidity and pollution when the atmosphere levels are low can precipitate asthma in susceptible individuals. It is thus advised that the dosage of asthma medicines should be increased during the winters. An attack of asthma occurs due to inflammation, narrowing and collection of fluid in the windpipe. Medicines need to be administered to widen the windpipe and reduce the inflammation.
An easy way to detect the severity of the asthma attack is to ask the patient to speak full sentences. If the patient can easily speak in full sentences, then the asthma attack is said to be mild. If they are only able to speak in broken sentences then, the asthma attack is moderate, and if the person is able to speak only words then the asthma attack is severe. A Severe attack of asthma requires immediate hospitalization.
The need of asthma medicines can be intermittent and/or permanent. The ‘Formula of ‘2T' becomes handy in such situations. A person who consumes more than two canisters of inhalers in a year or consumes asthma medicines more than twice in the night time in a month or more than twice in a day in a week, then he or she needs continuous asthma and anti-inflammatory medicines. Inhalers are the best choices.
Some of the other common health problems people may face during the winter months include:
1. Heart Attacks and Strokes: It is a known fact that the number of deaths due to heart attacks, cardiac arrests, and strokes increase during the winters. There are several reasons for this; firstly the reduction in the daylight hours affects the hormonal balance of the body and causes Vitamin D deficiency a common trigger for heart attacks. Additionally, cold temperatures cause the heart arteries to condense thereby restricting the blood and oxygen flow to the heart. This often causes a rise in the blood pressure.
2. Seasonal Affective Depression: This condition is characterized by experiencing episodes of depression every year, but only during the winter. What the exact cause of this is still unknown but it is believed that a low body temperature, scarcity of sunlight and hormone fluctuations play an important role. Winter depression causes an increase in stress levels and hypertension. People suffering from winter depression are also seen indulging in high sugar, trans fat and sodium comfort food, which can be extremely dangerous for the diabetic and hypertensive population. The temperature drop also increases the chances of blood clot formation, since blood platelets are more active and stickier during this time.
4. Vitamin D Deficiency: Indians are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, especially during the winter month given that they spend most of their time in indoor spaces. Vitamin D is essential for good bone health, a strong immune system, and a healthy heart. It also helps prevent deadly diseases such as cancer. It is extremely important that all Indians ensure that they spend time out in the sun on a daily basis in the winter months. Supplementation is also advised to avoid health complications.
5. Influenza: Seasonal Flu is very common during the winter and has the potential to be life-threatening especially for high-risk individuals. It is thus recommended that the flu shot should be taken in consultation with one's physician.