Asthma is a condition that affects people all over the world, with different rates prevalent depending on the country. But there does seem to be a common pattern emerging within certain parts of the world and the types of asthma being diagnosed.
It may be surprising to learn that the rate of asthma patients is higher in developed countries as opposed to undeveloped ones. However according to the Global Asthma Report 2014, asthma is on the rise in developing countries and more research is being conducted to look into the possible reasons why.
For the time being, more affluent countries do tend to exhibit the highest range of asthma sufferers. And whilst the exact cause of asthma still isn’t known, some experts have suggested that this rise could be related to the existence of more sterile homes and the use of antibiotics within those developed countries. Cold weather can also be a contributing factor to the existence of asthma, with this being prevalent in many affluent, European countries.
A study within the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine showed that young children in affluent, developed countries had more allergy-triggered asthma symptoms than did children in poorer, less developed countries.
So, let’s dig a little deeper and take a look at 8 countries who see high numbers of patients with asthma, and why this seems to be the case.
1. The Netherlands
The increase in asthma diagnosis in westernised countries such as The Netherlands could well be due to dietary habits. From the 1950’s onwards, diets have changed fairly significantly as fruits, vegetables and fish have been more frequently eliminated.
A report based around the relationship between diet and asthma prevalence in Dutch school children concluded that a diet high in whole grain products and fish may have a preventative effect against asthma in children. Airway inflammation appears to be a common factor in the relevance of these particular foods.
2. South Africa
According to a report by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five to 35 year olds.
Pulmonologist, Dr Justus Kilian says the high death rate of asthma sufferers in South Africa could well reflect the living conditions associated with the onset of asthma. Not only that but he states that the lack of quality healthcare may also be one of the reasons affecting asthma diagnosis and treatment.
A study conducted in 2015 lists Swaziland as having one of the highest asthma rates in the world. Whilst the exact causes are unknown, it’s important to note that Swaziland is not a democratic country and therefore could have some bearing on the high asthma mortality rates
It is reported that 15.3 people die per 100,000 from asthma and there are reports of widespread mismanagement, and malpractice by the authorities in the country.
The number of asthma patients being diagnosed has risen dramatically in the Philippines in recent years.
A 2003 NAES report discussed asthma prevalence among adults based on wheezing in the past 12 months at a rate of 8.7% and an overall prevalence of 14.3% for wheezing at any time in the past. This survey was conducted nationwide and looked at both rural and urban populations and the prevalence of asthma.
This survey showed that the prevalence of asthma was slightly higher in the rural than the urban areas. Different environmental factors such as increased pollution rate, infection rate, diet, and allergen exposure in urban versus rural areas may play a role in the development of asthma, but these weren’t identified in an exact way.
It was noted however that the practice of burning garbage and leaves in the backyard of people in the rural area may also contribute to the slightly higher prevalence in rural areas.
A national report conducted in 2013 highlighted the rise in asthma patients in Sweden. This report showed that six percent of children were diagnosed with the condition ten years ago, but this figure had risen to 9.5 percent in 2011.
Rather concerningly, Asthma is now the most common chronic illness among children in Sweden, a fact that the report puts down to an increase in passive smoking and air pollution in children’s living environment.
A report conducted by The European Respiratory Society showed Ireland as the top European country when it comes to a high level of asthma rates amongst adults. Ireland also doesn’t fare well when it comes to reported cases of childhood wheezing and asthma, coming out near the top of all countries listed.
Asthma is the most common disease in childhood and the most common respiratory condition in Ireland. And whilst there is no definitive reason as to how asthma is caused or why it is so high in Ireland, Dr Peter Greally , consultant respiratory paediatrician at the National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght states there are plenty of theories put forward.
Environmental issues are the most likely cause. Whether this be due to changes in the external environment, such as allergic substances increasing, or a change in the body’s response to this external environment.
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation reported that Australia had the highest rate of doctor diagnosed, clinical/treated asthma, and wheezing (21.0%, 21.5%, and 27.4%).
One expert suggests that air pollution is a likely culprit but there are many other factors associated with asthma that are being explored. These include diet, hygiene and allergens.
In November 2016, a phenomenon known as thunderstorm asthma hit the headlines and the hospitals of Melbourne. This rare type of asthma is thought to occur due to spread of pollen getting swept into the clouds and redistributed in smaller particles. For a patient with asthma, these particles can trigger an attack.
Whilst thunderstorms are a common springtime occurrence in and around Australia’s second-largest city, with six thunderstorm asthma outbreaks in the last four decades having been documented in Melbourne alone, the 2016 episode was by far the most extreme ever seen.
8. The UK
5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma. With these figures meaning that every one in eleven people are affected by this disease, this is a cause for concern. In fact, in June 1994, a freak incident in London saw 640 people rushed to emergency departments due to the sudden presence of full-blown asthma attacks. The reasoning behind this was attributed to the climatic conditions.
Experts have claimed that a suggested cause in the rise of asthma in developed countries could be due to a rise in sedentary lifestyle, which could affect lung strength, and the rise in obesity, which increases inflammation throughout the body.
Another potential factor in the increase of prevalent asthmas cases in the UK could also be linked to the overuse of paracetamol tablets.