Breathe freely: how to stay safe in the face of increasing pollution


Just days ago, Garima Joshi, a 36-year-old housewife in Noida, nearly lost her seven-year-old daughter. Joshi, an asthmatic patient herself, recognized the signs of difficulty breathing in her child and rushed her to the city’s JP Hospital just in time for the problem to be treated. “I later found out that she had had difficulty breathing since the day after Diwali, but had hidden it. Doctors say that because she was playing at night, the high air pollution would have triggered the onset of asthma, ”Joshi explains, adding that she and her husband are“ seriously ”considering leaving the NCR for a night. better quality of life. “Myself, I cannot leave my house during the months of November and December. It’s too dangerous to live in fear.

There are many who suffer from the same problem. In Delhi, where the air quality index is ‘severe’, hospitals such as BLK-Max Hospital and Apollo Hospital have noted a 20-30% increase in the number of patients with breathing difficulties and respiratory problems. In Bengaluru, the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases reported a 15% increase, while the city’s Aster RV Hospital recorded a 30% increase in the number of patients with lung problems. “It’s not just a Delhi problem. Particles also come from vehicles, not just crackers and burning thatch, ”says Dr Anshu Punjabi, pulmonologist at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Mumbai. She too has witnessed a spike in patients complaining of breathing problems. “It starts with wheezing and coughing and can then develop into serious problems such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or asthma or even lung cancer,” she explains.

A 2020 study by the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) shows that even small increases in pollution levels can make people sick. The study noted that there is a 20 percent increase in the number of patients requiring emergency care when PM2.5 levels are recorded between 50 and 100 µg / m³. At its peak, between October and January, hospitalizations increased by 40%.

“Pollution is one of the main risk factors for developing COPD or asthma. In our country, we see a lot of non-smokers receiving it. It is also indoor pollution and exposure to biomass; many people in the villages still use chulas and firewood on their stoves. This increases their risk of COPD and lung cancer. Any particulate matter is dangerous for our lungs, ”says Dr Punjabi. She explains that the particles can get inside the lining of the lungs and cause irritation. “When that happens, the lining of the lungs goes through some changes; it produces more mucus which could lead to chronic bronchitis, for example. They can even enter cells in our lungs and cause changes in the structure of their DNA – the start of the development of cancer cells in some people, ”she says.

For those who have already had Covid or those who are currently diagnosed with Covid, pollution poses even more problems. “People with pulmonary fibrosis due to Covid already have reduced oxygen capacity,” says Apollo Delhi pulmonologist Dr Rajesh Chawla. Several studies have also pointed out that high pollution increases the risk of mortality from Covid-19. In northern Italy, where pollution is 4.5% higher than in other regions, mortality from Covid was also 12% higher. A Harvard University study notes that for every 1g increase in long-term exposure to PM 2.5, mortality from Covid-19 can increase by 8%.

Dr Puneet Khanna, Head of Respiratory Medicine Department at Manipal Hospitals in Delhi, explains how people, especially children and the elderly, can stay protected during this season. “Every year we have this problem due to the increase in particles and dense fog. We can lessen this effect by wearing an N95 mask every time we go out; even those with chronic respiratory disease or even those with heart / kidney disease. We tell vulnerable groups to take their medication regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I also tell my elderly patients to avoid going out for a walk during rush hour, going in the afternoon when the dense fog is over. Dr Punjabi adds that getting the flu shot every year and keeping doors and windows closed early and late at night can also increase protection. An air purifier for the home and the car is also recommended by doctors. However, the filters should be cleaned regularly.


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