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Air Pollution: How Poor Air Quality Can Affect Your Health

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The air pollution in Delhi has raised eyebrows once again as Delhiites are breathing poor quality air. The air quality index is a measure of the concentration of harmful chemicals and particulate matter such as PM 10, PM 2.5, etc. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the air quality in Delhi is poor with an index value of 241. As per the CPCB guidelines, an air quality index above 100 is considered unhealthy. This is because, harmful chemicals, toxins, and particulate matter in the air can not only choke the lungs but also put you at risk of several illnesses such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer. So to prevent the ill-effects of air pollution, here are a few things to keep in mind.

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Air pollution: Who is at risk?

Every individual living in the polluted city is at risk of suffering from pollution-related health complications. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is a major threat for certain vulnerable population groups including:

-Kids

-Elderly people

-Asthmatics

-People with a pre-existing cardiovascular disease

-People who suffer from acute or chronic respiratory diseases

-Pregnant women

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How air pollution increases the risk of diseases?

Air pollution occurs when the level of pollutants in the air such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulphur oxide exceed the normal limit.

Particulate matter is one of the most dangerous types of pollutants present in the air which can lead to numerous health problems. These are small particles which can be dust particles, acids, metals, etc. present in the air. PM 2.5 and PM 10 are the particulate matter measurement units for particle sizes lesser than 2.5 microns and 10 microns respectively. When these particles are inhaled, they can go deep into the lungs and cause serious lung damage. Moreover, these particles can lead to a headache, throat pain and irritation, cough, allergies, breathing problems, and can even worsen asthma.

Carbon monoxide, a type of gas released in the air by motor vehicle exhaust or from partial burning, when inhaled gets mixed with the blood and impairs the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This, in turn, can lead to difficulty in breathing and increase the risk of heart attack.

Sulphur and nitrogen oxide are gases which are emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, and industries. These type of pollutants cause inflammation of the airways, which not only causes breathing problems, lung disease, and heart disease but also worsens asthma and pre-existing respiratory conditions.

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How to protect yourself from air pollution?

One of the simplest and best ways to block air pollutants and combat air pollution is to use a respiratory mask. Also known as respirators, these masks help you to breathe cleaner air. Of the various types of masks available to fight air pollution, N 95 and N 99 are commonly used and recommended ones.

-N95 mask filters around 95% of pollutants that are larger than 0.3 microns in size. Thus offering protection against PM 10 and PM 2.5.

-N 99 mask filters out close to 99% of pollutants that are larger than 0.3 microns in size. It is best for people with pre-existing respiratory problems, breathing issues, or allergies.

-Certain respiratory masks can block air pollutants such as PM 2.5 and also protect against bacteria and viruses, thereby offering you complete protection from flu and pollution.

-Paper masks and ordinary surgical masks offer no significant protection against particulate matter, especially PM 2.5. Here’s more on different types of pollution masks and steps to wear the mask correctly.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

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