Next time you want to use a mosquito coil in an enclosed space, then know that it can raise indoor pollutant levels and trigger Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) over the long term. Every day, six persons lose their lives to this chronic inflammatory lung disease in the financial capital of Mumbai, according to data from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The situation may not be better in other cities as only last year, a worldwide study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) estimated that India’s death rate from COPD during 2019 was 98 per 100,000 population, three times the American rate of 33 and the British rate of 31, although the three countries had comparable prevalence rates — 3,300 to 3,700 per 100,000 population.

Although smoking habits and rising air pollution are the main risk factors for COPD, indoor air pollution is often ignored as a major contributing factor. To add to the plight, the commonly used mosquito coil can prove to be lethal for health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household pollution is responsible for 4.3 million deaths annually in the world. Inhaling fumes released from mosquito coils can be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, says Dr Samir Garde, Director, Department of Pulmonology and Lung Transplant, Global Hospitals, Mumbai. One study estimated the particulate matter produced from burning one mosquito coil was equivalent to burning 75 to 137 cigarettes. This amount of exposure certainly poses a health risk.

Why is the smoke from burning a mosquito coil harmful?

The smoke released from mosquito coils contains chemicals that are known to induce respiratory distress. Furthermore, constant exposure to smoke from mosquito repellants can cause COPD and lead to respiratory failure.

Is it more harmful than smoking tobacco?

Exposure to mosquito coils is as harmful as smoking. These coils contain heavy metals like aluminium, chromium and tin, insecticides and pesticides like pyrethrin as well as aromatic substances — these pollutants can impact one’s overall well-being and induce respiratory, eye and skin problems. It is better to avoid using mosquito coils and ensure your safety. According to a Taiwanese study, burning mosquito coils can release a large amount of particulate matter and formaldehyde. Importantly, the association of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, fine particles and formaldehyde with human lung cancer has been suggested in studies.

What happens if one burns a mosquito coil daily?

Daily burning of mosquito coils, especially in a closed room at night while sleeping, can cause breathing difficulties and disturbed sleep. It can lead to burning of the eyes, redness and irritation, trigger one’s asthma and cause nausea and vomiting. It can lead to coughing bouts, wheezing, constant sneezing and sore throat. In fact, if inhaled for several hours, smoke from a mosquito call can cause suffocation. Studies have shown that if the gases get dissolved in the blood and circulate to the heart, there are chances of carbon monoxide poisoning which can be fatal.

Which group of people is more vulnerable to coil smoke?

Pregnant women, those with asthma, bronchitis and children are at a greater risk of developing respiratory conditions after inhaling such dense fumes. Even the immune-compromised are susceptible to developing breathing difficulties.

How dangerous is indoor pollution in developing COPD?

Poor indoor air quality leads to the development of lung infections, lung cancer and COPD. Rural women, who are mostly responsible for household chores, such as cooking and collecting firewood, bear the greatest health burden. This can then cause an increase in respiratory morbidity and mortality.

What are alternative measures that can be taken to avoid mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases?

Wear full-sleeved cotton clothes to avoid mosquito bites. Try to keep the window closed or attach a bug screen during the evening. Avoid stagnant water near the house which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Do fogging from time to time to avoid mosquito breeding.

Natural alternatives

1. Mosquito nets can be used over beds.

2. Applying neem oil to exposed skin can repel mosquitoes.

3. Citronella oil is a natural mosquito repellent.

4. Essential oils like lavender and peppermint can be placed around the house.

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