Experts urge Hongkongers to seek medical attention as flu season draws near

New study shows many people simply ‘wait out’ illnesses and do not take preventative measures

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 10:44pm

Two fifths of Hongkongers experiencing symptoms of respiratory tract illnesses do not seek medical attention, opting instead to just wait it out, a new study has found.

The findings prompted concern from the Hong Kong Lung Foundation and the Thoracic Society, who warned that illnesses, if ignored, could lead to further complications or infections such as pneumonia.

Their joint study, conducted online between April and June on 509 people, found the most prevalent respiratory conditions were airway allergies, which 37 per cent of participants reported experiencing, asthma (15 per cent) and flu or upper respiratory tract infections (28 per cent).

A quarter of respondents said they fell ill from such respiratory tract problems at least once a month, while a third said they were sick every three months. The findings come as the city prepares for the winter influenza season.

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As for the symptoms, 83 per cent of participants reported experiencing runny noses and more than half said chronic coughing was an issue.

Thoracic Society chair Dr Loletta So Kit-ying said while most respondents sought prescription medicines or paid a visit to a clinic, many chose to do nothing at all.

“Around 40 per cent said they did not seek medical attention and just waited for the symptoms to disappear,” she said. “We recommend sufferers seek medical treatment to prevent such problems from worsening.”

Dr Tam Cheuk-yin, chair of the Lung Foundation and a respiratory medicine specialist at Tuen Mun Hospital, said awareness of preventative measures, such as flu jabs and reducing exposure to allergens, was rather low.

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“If the problem is airway allergy, then you need to find that source and avoid exposure to it,” he said.

“Body checkups are important too as doctors will look at things not picked up regularly. Some smokers for example, may think they’re not getting sick, but what we may see is that their lung function may have declined.”

According to the survey, respondents believed the most important course of action was for the government to reduce air pollution, but there was little to no emphasis on personal preventative efforts, such as seeing a doctor for annual body checkups, early vaccination, quitting smoking or keeping a balanced diet.