Amid bouts of wheezing and panting, 73-year-old Sarla Devi asked to be laid down on the hospital bed at the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute Thursday, the day after Diwali. Her sons helped her, as she held her nebuliser mask to her face.
“She is an asthma patient. On Diwali, the smoke from firecrackers going off in our area, Gandhi Nagar, brought back the breathlessness. We brought her to the hospital. Before this, she had been to the hospital three weeks ago,” said her son Sanjay.
The hospital did not receive more patients than usual the day after Diwali. Doctors, however, cautioned delayed symptoms should not be seen as pollution levels having fallen.
Manoj, general manager of a private logistics company, was at the hospital with his wife. “I suffer from asthma, but this Diwali, I did not have to undergo treatment unlike last year,” he said. His wife Sarita, however, was treated for a bronchial condition.
There are primarily two types of patients hit by increased pollution levels this season. According to doctors, the first comprise those like Sarla Devi, who are already suffering from underlying pulmonary disorders like asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease). Their condition worsens due to the high levels of pollution. Nebulisers and increased medication are needed to treat them.
The second comprise otherwise healthy persons who experience persisting cough or tightening of the chest when exposed to high pollution levels.
“There are other sociological reasons behind people not reporting cases of respiratory problems after Diwali. Festivities, social obligations, daily preoccupations are given priority over health. Most people keep stalling visiting the doctor and undergoing treatment till they can no longer afford to. Patients should come in by Monday, the first day of a new week, because the usual psyche functions in this manner,” said Dr S K Chhabra, Head of Department of Cardiorespiratory Physiology at the institute.
“The onset of winter increases pollen dust, allergies. We are also heading into flu season in December and January. Chest infections and related diseases increase with changes in weather,” added Dr Chhabra.
Doctors at the institute said they had been seeing between 100 and 120 patients a day in each of the three departments of the OPD. Of them, 10 patients on a daily average are admitted for further treatment.
Dr Randeep Guleria, head of the Department of Pulmonology and Sleep Disorders at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said, “Like every year, there should be an approximate increase of 20 to 25 per cent in the number of patients
coming in with respiratory and cardiac problems, though patients have not started coming in yet.”
He added, “We had advised patients we have been treating for respiratory and cardiac problems to increase their medication and inhalers around the time Diwali celebrations took off.”