Source: Reader’s Digest Canada, September 2014
Short of breath? You’re not alone. Between 1979 and today, the proportion of asthma sufferers in Canada more than tripled. Over the same time, other countries also saw a rise, especially among children.
Theories abound as to why, and include the front-runner: air pollution. Certain pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter (two components of smog), are known to irritate lungs. Research also suggests that long-term exposure to air pollution may slow lung growth in kids.
Climate change probably isn’t helping, says a report released in June by the White House. Besides increasing ground-level ozone, it extends the allergy-rich pollination season by 19 or more days in the northern states ‘ and in Canada.
There’s also the "hygiene hypothesis," the idea that overly sanitized environments don’t allow kids to train their immune systems. Children who grow up on farms and drink raw cow’s milk are at a lower risk of asthma, giving this theory credence. Rural kids might also be breathing cleaner air and spending more time outdoors, thus getting more vitamin D from the sun ‘ which helps with lung development.
An astonishing finding? There are relatively low asthma and allergy rates where hookworm infections are common, meaning that the intestinal parasite might decrease the activity of the immune system ‘ potentially dangerous under the wrong circumstances, but useful for asthma and allergy sufferers. Since 2006, small groups of asthmatics in Britain have been letting themselves become infected with hookworms for clinical trials (the results have been inconclusive).
If you have asthma, it’s best to avoid elements that can set off an episode. Although asthma attacks can be fatal (250 Canadians die of them each year), many asthmatics don’t live in trigger-free homes: among families where a child has asthma triggered by animal dander, 39 per cent keep a furry pet.
The onus for lightening the burden of asthma isn’t all on sufferers, however: it will also take strong government policy to control air pollution and climate change ‘ and help us all breathe easier.