Increase In Respiratory Illness In Younger Population: Precautionary Measures During Winter Season


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Winter is the season when the majority of respiratory infections or respiratory illnesses exacerbate, particularly in countries like India. The air temperature sees a drop, causing a phenomenon known as temperature inversion, where the air temperature around us becomes lower and higher at higher altitudes. So, the heavier air does not rise up and as a result, pollen and pollutants which are in the air tend to be more concentrated in our breathable vicinity. This results in increased exposure to allergens, which leads to a higher prevalence of Allergic diseases such as asthma or allergic rhinitis during the winter. The excessive amount of pollen that is produced across the seasons is another major contributing factor to various winter-related allergic conditions.

Respiratory Illnesses Due to Excessive Pollen Exposure

During monsoon, an excessive amount of pollen is generated due to the growth in flora. As a result of this, the pollen content also increases. Higher wind speeds in winter help in pollination and thus lead to far-reaching distribution of the same. Winter is thus also known as the pollination season.

What is respiratory failure? How is it treated?

Thus, whenever there is exposure to these allergens, patients prone to allergies such as asthmatics, allergic rhinitis, or patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) experience hyper-reactive airways. This can also lead to a situation called bronchoconstriction (wherein the airways tend to narrow down) and as a result of this, these patients can develop symptoms such as wheezing, cough, excessive phlegm production, sneezing, running nose, and nose block.

India is one of the most affected countries with one of the highest mortality rates due to asthma. These symptoms also lead to poor quality of life for patients. In worst cases, patients end up in the hospital due to severe exacerbation, which could be associated with a drop in oxygen saturation and excessive breathlessness. The treatment module is mainly symptomatic for these patients. During hospitalization, these patients require special care and adequate treatment in the form of inhalers, nebulizations, and IV steroids to recover from this exacerbation.

Common Infections During Winter:

In terms of infections during winter, the environment becomes conducive to viral infections. This not only allows them to flourish but also to spread, posing a risk to public health. The dry air can also cause irritation in the respiratory tract, making it easier for germs to take hold. As a result, there are a lot of outbreaks of influenza, cold and flu viruses, and respiratory syncytial virus. This has been a common, recurring phenomenon in contracting mild flu or bacterial infections during the winter, with some cases of pneumonia along with infections requiring hospitalization. We have been encountering mini outbreaks of viruses like H1N1 influenza, adeno, and respiratory syncytial viruses in the community. However, the mortality rate in these cases is less than 1%. Few people who are at higher risk for worsening disease manifestations require intensive care. These risks may include older age (more than 65 years of age), uncontrolled Diabetes, chronic kidney and liver disease, ischemic heart disease, and immunosuppressed individuals. 


Precautionary measures for Respiratory Illnesses:

If the patient is a known asthmatic, please be sincere as far as taking the inhalers is concerned. Wear a mask whenever possible, whenever there is a high risk of exposure to the allergens. Air purifiers do help to reduce the exposure to suspended particulate matter which could be pollution and pollen. Using them in a room where you sleep does help. Regular check-ups with your pulmonologist during the same season are also very important.

The next most important measure is to get vaccinated annually, especially against diseases such as influenza and pneumonia. Influenza vaccination is recommended to be taken in September or in April which will help provide enough protection during the flu season. The pneumonia vaccine, also called the pneumococcal vaccine, is particularly required for high-risk patients. Regular follow-up with your doctor is also necessary for vulnerable populations. 

Stay healthy and consider doing your exercises regularly during the winter. Age-old practices such as yoga and pranayama also help improve lung health. Have good lifestyle practices along with maintaining a weight management plan. It is also important to maintain regular hygiene such as washing your hands frequently, avoiding contact with sick people, and staying warm which helps to reduce your risk of getting sick. Follow a balanced diet that consists of low carbohydrates and low fat but enough raw leafy vegetables and fruits. This helps to improve immunity to fight respiratory illnesses during the winter. Avoid processed and junk food or binge eating habits. However, if you still fall sick, be sure to take rest, drink plenty of fluids, and seek medical attention if necessary. 

Winter worsens respiratory illnesses in India due to factors like temperature inversion and increased pollen. Asthma and allergies surge, causing wheezing and coughing. Severe asthma cases lead to hospitalizations, and requires emergency medical support. Viral infections increase health risks, especially for the elderly, demanding precautions like masks and vaccinations. So, regular check-ups, a healthy lifestyle, and prompt medical attention help minimize winter respiratory issues.

About the author: Dr. Vasunethra Kasargod is a Consultant in Pulmonologist at Manipal Hospital Millers Road. All views/opinions expressed in the article are of the author.

Increase In Respiratory Illness In Younger Population: Precautionary Measures During Winter Season

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