Dr. Bornali Dutta
The air in our cities has become unimaginably polluted – the air is heavy with particulate matter (PM). The sources of this are many and some of the common ones relevant to our city are – automobile exhaust, crop burning in rural & semi-rural areas and seasonal Diwali fireworks. The PM that we inhale into our lungs is sizes 2.5 & 10 micron. The continuous monitoring of air quality tells us that in New Delhi PM 2.5 levels at present are 175, several fold above the acceptable levels of PM2.5 < 50. And it’s not even Diwali! One can only make a guess as to how high it goes during and after Diwali. In past years PM2.5 has gone up to 1000. The levels are toxic. The city has been described as a gas chamber, and that is possibly not an exaggeration.
This vile dense air, laden with toxic particulate matter, is inhaled into our lungs and gets deposited into the air tubes and the fine substance of the lungs. People with existing lung disease suffer tremendously from the onslaught by the toxic air, resulting in an exacerbation of their disease be it Asthma / COPD (Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease) / ILD (Interstitial Lung Disease). Chest infections & pneumonias are a common presentation post-Diwali. People with no known lung disease also develop cough, severe breathlessness and wheezing, resulting in the development of Asthma. Respiratory specialists in hospitals see a steep rise in Out Patients and In Patients, immediately after Diwali.
Long after Diwali the particulate matter lingers; it envelopes the city for the entire winter period, causing a continuum of poor health and loss of work days. The smog that forms is worst in the early morning and late night hours.
What can the any of us do? First of all, measures to reduce overall pollution and secondly measures to reduce exposure of one’s body to the pollution. Legislation is very important in stopping completely, all use of fireworks during Diwali; this measure will have a dramatic impact on air quality. We need to STOP using fireworks or be prepared for a long and hard winter, full of respiratory illness and distress. Farmers need to be shown alternative ways to clear their fields of dry crop remains. Vehicular pollution can only be reduced by every individual exercising a great deal of good sense and opting for public transport or car pooling.
Indoor pollution can be controlled by use of air purifiers, which are being used increasingly in households. The N95 mask has been shown to keep out 95% of particulate matter and can be used during this season. Avoid exercise in early morning and late evening hours to reduce inhalation of the particularly poor quality air in these times of the day.
Diwali, the festival of lights needs to be celebrated as just that and not as a festival of smoke, noise and pollution. It should certainly should not become for everyone, a harbinger of severe air pollution and illness. Festivities can continue sans fireworks.
Our overall lifestyle of excess needs to be curbed and everything used wisely and well, to prevent ongoing damage to our environment and thereby our own health.
Most of Indian metro cities are among the world’s most polluted ones when it comes to quality of air. There has been steady rise in acute respiratory Illnesses which is related to worsening ambient air pollution.
Before the city turns into a gas chamber, we need to gear up for this environmental emergency. We should Control pollution as much as we can, including not lighting up fire crackers on Diwali. The farmers who burn crops should be given an alternative so that the burring doesn’t lead to adding up the particulate matter in the atmosphere. Since, winter is about to approach you need to understand that the early morning and evening is the time you should avoid going out. The reason is at that time the air is denser with the particulate matter that settles down as the temperature is cold at that hours.”
We list down few steps one should take to stay safe and healthy in this season.
- Do not light up fire crackers and add up pollution to the environment.
- Do not go out for walks in early morning / evening hours as the air is denser and the particulate matter is in high quantity.
- If you have to go for walks, choose a time when the sun has come out and the air is lighter with less particulate matter.
- Wear N95 masks when you step outside.
- Use purifiers for indoors.
- Ban the excess use of automobiles.
- Provide an alternative to the farmers so that they do not burn the crop.
For Respiratory Patients-
- Stay indoors as much as possible.
- Take your medication regularly.
- Use inhalers regularly.
- Around this time of the year you should take required medication and vaccination (flu vaccination)
- Smokers should avoid smoking.
- General health and lifestyle measures should be taken.
- Don’t overeat.
Inspite using medication if you are not feeling good, visit the doctor / hospital for a checkup immediately.
Associate Director, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta- The Medicity