With winter around the corner, air pollution levels rise at an alarming rate. Stubble burning, vehicular emissions, construction activities, fire crackers and other factors contribute to degrading air quality. These can lead to breathing issues and aggravate diseases and health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory infections and cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, smog, which is a mixture of smoke and air pollution, can damage your lungs. It can comprise airborne particulate matter, mostly PM 2.5 and PM 10, that can have adverse health effects.
Why you should watch out for PM 2.5 over PM 10
This is a fine, inhalable particle, generally 2.5 micrometres of diameter or smaller. The combustion of gasoline, oil, diesel fuel or wood produces much of the PM 2.5. Due to its smaller size, the particulate matter can be drawn deep in the lungs and can be more harmful as compared to PM 10. It can penetrate the lung deeply, irritate and corrode the epithelial walls and consequently impair lung function.
According to the US-based National Library of Medicine, PM 2.5 have small diameters but they can spread over large surface areas. They are “capable of carrying various toxic stuff, passing through the filtration of nose hair, reaching the end of the respiratory tract with airflow and accumulating there by diffusion, damaging other parts of the body through air exchange in the lungs… The ‘Harvard Six Cities Study’, published in 1996, revealed that PM 2.5 was one of the causative factors of human non-accidental death. In this study, PM 2.5 was positively related to daily morality of humans, particularly the elderly (RR =1.5 per cent, 95 per cent CI: 1.1–1.9 per cent).”
How damaging is PM 10
It is an inhalable particle, generally with 10 micrometres of diameter or smaller. It includes dust from construction site, landfills, agriculture, waste burning and so on. These particles settle and get deposited in the lungs. The exposure of particulate PM 10 is associated with worsening of respiratory diseases like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The larger size of particulate matter means it gets trapped mostly in the nose, mouth or throat, causing irritation of mucous membranes.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared air pollution as a public health emergency and more than 90 per cent of the global pollution is enduring toxic, polluted outdoor air.
Pollution impacts other organs too
While it is a common notion that air pollution mostly affects lungs, it is crucial to note that other body organs too can be damaged due to continuous exposure to polluted air. For instance, air pollution can damage skin and cause premature ageing and problems like rashes, wrinkles, discoloration, pigmentation and so on. Exposure to polluted outdoor air has been proven to be harmful to the human eye. Common eye problems caused by pollution are watery eyes, soreness, redness, itching sensation, dry eyes and allergy. Other than this, air pollution can have adverse effects on the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive and urinary systems. Due to air pollution, there have been increasing cases of heart diseases and cancer.
Know what AQI levels mean
As air pollution is increasing day by day, it is important to adopt various measures and steps to minimise the harmful impact on your health. To know about the air quality, you can easily refer to the air quality index (AQI), which is a daily measure of the quality of air. The main purpose is to calculate or measure how air pollution affects health and help people become more aware, especially those who suffer from serious or chronic illnesses caused by exposure to pollutants. Plan your activities around good and bad air days. The categories of AQI are: good (0-50), satisfactory (51–100), moderately polluted (101–200), poor (201–300), very poor (301–400), severe (401-500).
Health tips you should follow
1) You must cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or wear a mask in polluted areas to avoid harmful pollutants.
2) You must avoid smoking as it causes cancer and the smoke contributes to air pollution.
3) You must ensure proper ventilation at home for circulation of air with chimneys or exhaust fans.
4) Working out in clean and unpolluted air is necessary for increasing immunity and overall well-being. Outdoor exercise in a heavily polluted environment can have adverse effects on health. Therefore, one must daily do indoor exercise for healthier lungs and other health benefits. Include zumba, yoga or other exercises that can be done in small spaces.
5) Indoor air is equally polluted like outdoor air and you should get an air purifier which can refresh stale air and reduce the chances of infections and other health issues. In smog conditions, indoor air is considered five times more harmful than outdoor air if not purified. Air purifiers can help in eliminating 99.7 per cent of airborne particulate matter circulating in the home environment. Air purifiers with HEPA technology can help in capturing small pathogens. While purchasing an air purifier, tick off these boxes: HEPA filters, asthma and allergy-friendly certification and clean-air delivery rate.