Air Pollution: Its adverse effects on Lung
Do you remember the last winter in Delhi with clean air, free of the grey blanket of smog that traps and kills all of us today; slowly but surely.
The biggest killer of our times is here and it’s here to stay as per a report called the State of Global Air 2020 by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute. Air pollution and long term exposure to the same contributed to more than 1.7 million deaths owing to diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, cardiac disease and even neonatal disease: in 2019 alone, and in case you were unaware, air pollution quality has gotten worse since. On top of this, particulate matter in our houses and outside also contributed to over 116,000 infant deaths in 2020. Over fifty percent of all these deaths were clearly linked to particulate matter 2.5 or PM 2.5 while others were attributable to burning solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, biomass for cooking purposes.
For the the majority of infant deaths, complications owing to birthing defects, low birth weight and premature births proved fatal.
India is among the three most polluted countries in the world, ranked third behind Bangladesh and the PM 2.5 concentration in India is a good 5.2 times above the recommended annual air quality guideline of the World Health Organisation. Delhi is among the 5 most polluted cities in the world and just a day after Diwali this year, we witnessed the air quality dropping to severe at 500
AQI, due to incessant firecrackers, no accountability on the part of law enforcement, stubble burning, and other factors. Hospitals are once again teeming with patients struggling to breathe; so many of them young children and adults recovering from Covid-19.
Did you know that poor air quality increases the risk of serious symptoms of coronavirus, as it weakens the body’s immune system, making people more suspect to severe respiratory ailments and other lung infections like pneumonia.
Air pollution is made up of harmful and poisonous compounds that are harmful to all living beings. Even people with no history of lung disease are at risk, but it is particularly dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory ailments.
Air pollution exists on the ground level as ozone smog, more commonly called “smog”, which is produced as a result of a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides under sunlight, these organic compounds easily vaporise and mix into the air through engine exhaust. It is no wonder then that the largest producers of these nitrogen oxides are the fumes from fuel combustion in vehicles.
Particulate matter refers to tiny particles in the air (almost invisible to the eye) is formed as a by-product of combustion from auto and diesel exhausts, power plants and smoke from burning wood and stubble.
HOW DOES AIR POLLUTION AFFECT THE LUNGS?
Breathing in polluted air can irritate a person’s airways and cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and chest pain. Long term exposure to air pollution puts oriole at higher risk for developing lung cancer even if they don’t smoke, diabetes, stroke, cardiac attacks and in very extreme cases, even death.
Air pollution is a grave danger for the lung health of certain groups; especially particularly infants and children, who breathe faster than adults as they are still developing their physical selves. The elderly are also at higher risk of mortality owing to respiratory disorders along with people who are outdoors more often. People with existing heart disease are also at greater risk of serious complications owing to air pollution.
Considerable research has suggested that chronic exposure to air pollution is clearly linked to lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
How You Can Limit the Damage
For those who live in cities which are affected by bad air quality with high levels of air pollution, there are some things that can be of help in reducing the severity of damage on a day-to-day basis. You can
- * Reduce stressful activities and exercise time outdoors as it is polluted, maybe try and go to a gym or work out in a well-ventilated room.
- * Try and avoid visiting zones with high air pollution, like construction sites and main roads.
- * Try and avoid being outdoors during traffic rush hour when pollution levels are at through the roof.
- * Ensure that you have your inhaler, if prescribed, handy and accessible.
- * Asthmatics can use a preventer inhaler medication regularly.
- * Keep your windows shut and set the air conditioner to recycle the air when you’re in your car.
These methods can prove beneficial for those who are worried about being exposed to air pollution and its subsequent health effects. In addition to this, we must raise our voices and make government take more action immediately to address the killer that is air pollution, to preserve the future for our children.
Aakash Healthcare Superspeciality Hospital, Dwarka, Delhi is considered one of the best hospitals for respiratory diseases and has a team of best pulmonologists in Delhi. We provide multidisciplinary care for patients with lung cancer, COPD, sleep disorders, and cystic fibrosis, including bronchoscopy. With our fully equipped pulmonary function laboratory, we provide the best care to our patients.
If you have an inquiry related to lung diseases, or respiratory problems or Pulmonary Function Test (PFT), or FeNO test, or six minutes walk test, or spirometry test, book an appointment with Aakash Healthcare today.
Dr. Akshay Budhraja
Respiratory & Sleep Medicine