Doctors warn that exposure to air pollutants can severely compromise health, especially among children
Doctors advise that people bring out their masks to counter the alarming problem of air pollution in cities, aggravated in the winter month
Even as the fear of Covid has waned, doctors advise that people bring out their masks to counter the alarming problem of air pollution in cities, aggravated in the winter months. In Mumbai, scratchy throats, breathing trouble, cough and asthma have been the common complaints of people visiting doctors of late.
The culprit, healthcare professionals say, is the rising levels of pollutants in the air. A few months ago, Mumbaikars breathed relatively easily while Delhiites were choking due to stubble-burning in the neighbouring states. Air quality levels in the national capital in November largely remained in the severe to very severe range, prompting the government to enforce strict pollution-curbing norms, including stopping all construction activity.
Now, it appears to be time for the residents of Mumbai to take cover behind face masks. Last week, Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) was hovering in the range of 225, which falls in the ‘poor’ category as per the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).
As respiratory ailments rise, doctors caution parents about the need to protect children since they breathe more rapidly and are more vulnerable to the side-effects of air pollution. “High levels of air pollution may put children at greater risk for developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease in later life,” says Dr Paula Goel, consultant pediatrician, adolescent physician and founder, Fayth Clinic, Mumbai.
There are several long-term impacts of air pollution on children. It is believed to affect their brains and impact neurodevelopment and cognitive ability, hindering mental and motor development. “It can trigger asthma and childhood cancer. Pregnant women exposed to polluted air are more likely to have premature deliveries with low birth-weight babies. Pollution is responsible for almost one in 10 deaths in children under the age of five,” says Dr Goel.
Dr Goel recommends keeping children indoors when air quality is very poor. It is also important to stay away from smokers as well as avoid being too close to idling cars or inhaling smoke from burning wood.
The impact, though, is not just on children. Air-pollution affects adults as well, often resulting in severe ailments. “Long and short-term exposure to toxins in the air affects the eyes, brain, lungs and heart, causing neuropsychiatric complications. It causes skin diseases, heart disease, stroke, obesity and even caner,” explains Dr Goel.
While staying indoors until the air quality improves is not an option, an effective way of reducing the intake of pollutants is to wear masks that protect against particle pollution or airborne infectious aerosols. Medical practitioners recommend KN95, FFP2 or N95 pollution masks. These can filter up to 95 per cent of airborne particles even as small as 0.3 microns.