Mumbai’s overall Air Quality Index Thursday morning was at 315, regarded as ‘very poor’, which was higher than Delhi’s AQI at 263 or in the ‘poor’ category, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR). As Mumbai AQI became worse than Delhi’s, doctors advised people to take precautionary measures like wearing masks, especially those who have respiratory illnesses, while stepping out.
What precautions should citizens take while outdoors?
Studies have linked cardiovascular events to air pollution levels, and those with cardiac comorbidities should also be cautious. Measures that help could be using masks (preferably high-efficiency masks such as N-95 or K-95 masks), avoiding the outdoors when the AQI is poor, or limiting oneself to essential activities outdoors.
“One needs to change masks frequently, as pollution of this magnitude can cause frequent clogging of the masks, making it difficult to breathe. Those with asthma (especially children) should be regular with using their inhalers, especially when playing sports outdoors,” said Dr Lancelot Pinto, epidemiologist and pulmonologist, Hinduja Hospital. “It would also be prudent to not expose oneself to such poor quality air when suffering from a respiratory tract infection, as there is a potential that the air quality could worsen the manifestations of the illness,” he added.
How can high air pollution impact people’s health?
Air pollution is the presence of one or more contaminants in the atmosphere, such as dust, fumes, gas, mist, odour, smoke or vapour in quantities and duration that can be injurious to human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the main pathway of exposure to air pollution is through the respiratory tract. Breathing in these pollutants leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, immunosuppression, and mutagenicity in cells throughout our body, impacting the lungs, heart, and brain among other organs and ultimately leading to disease.
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As The Indian Express reported that the onset of winter combined with poor air quality has led to a rise in chronic respiratory illnesses with patients flocking to hospitals OPDs with recurrent colds and cough with many taking more than two weeks for recovery.
Dr Radhika Banka, Consultant, Pulmonary Medicine, Hinduja Hospital, Khar cited the drastic change in weather and ambient temperatures, deterioration of air quality, and increasingly unhealthy lifestyle causing a decrease in natural immunity as the main reasons behind more patients with respiratory symptoms being witnessed this season.
“Of these, poor air quality, in particular, is playing a major role as increased construction following Covid-19 and fossil fuel combustion is contributing significantly to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” she said.
Dr Pinto said viral infections can often cause a post-viral cough and cold that can be long-standing and prolonged. “This is often because of an increased irritability and sensitivity of the air passages in the lungs, rendering them more susceptible to irritants in the air, and to secondary bacterial infections,” he said.
What are some of the worst air pollutants?
As per WHO, although there are many toxins that have adverse impacts on health, pollutants with the strongest evidence for public health concern include particulate matter (PM), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). Fine particulate matter is an especially important source of health risks, as these very small particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and travel to organs causing systemic damage to tissues and cells.