Air pollution has become a global health problem, especially in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household air pollution was responsible for 3.8 million premature deaths in 2016, including over 400,000 deaths of children under the age of 5 years. Did you know more than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day? India is considered to be one of the top 10 highly polluted countries in the world. In fact, a recent study  has reported that around 99% of India’s population encounters air pollution levels that exceed the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines, indicating almost every one of us are breathing polluted air.
Are You At Risk Of Air Pollution?
Air pollution is known to be emerging as an invisible killer in recent years with an increased rate of morbidity and mortality. Although it threatens people of all ages, right from infants to elders, children are most vulnerable.
Unlike adults, children’s lungs are not fully developed, which increases the risk of inflammation and organ damage caused by pollutants. Also, their immune system is not properly developed thereby further increasing their risk of suffering from severe health complications due to pollution. They breathe faster than adults, taking in more air and, with it, more pollutants. Also, kids have shorter and narrower airways and they breathe through their mouths often. This increases the risk of breathing in more pollutants and dust, which gets absorbed and settled in the lungs, respiratory tract and blood vessels.
Newborns and infants spend the most time on the floor where some pollutants reach peak concentrations. They do spend most of their time indoors, which increases the susceptibility to household air pollution. As compared to adults who spend most of the time in the office, children spend much time outside, playing and engaging in physical activity in potentially polluted air from traffic, power plants, and other combustion sources. The risk is also high during pregnancy as exposure to air pollutants before conception can also impose latent risks on the fetus that can lead to illness and other health problems that last a lifetime.
Air pollution can:
-Increase the risk of respiratory conditions right from pneumonia to lung cancer
-Worsen the symptoms of wheezing, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, and other respiratory conditions
-Lead to impaired lung development in kids
-Increase the risk of retinopathy and ocular problems such as dry eyes, eye pain,
-Lead to skin problems such as irritation, redness, hives, and allergy
-Increase blood pressure and heart rate thereby putting you at risk of heart disease
-Cause serious complications in the immune system
-Have damaging effects on the nervous system including cognitive impairment in kids
-Up the risk of low birth weight babies and preterm delivery in pregnant women
Tips to protect yourself against pollution
Here are a few simple ways to fight air pollution and protect your family from the harmful effects of air pollution.
1. Stay indoors, preferably in the morning
Avoid going for morning walks and outdoor activities as air pollution is said to be worse in the morning. So exercising outdoors in the early hours can do more harm than good as you might end up breathing polluted air. As kids tend to play outside, it is important to restrict their playtime when the pollutant levels are high.
2. Use anti-pollution masks/nasal filters
Poor quality of air makes it important to use a mask. But paper masks, stoles/handkerchiefs, and surgical masks offer no significant protection against the harmful air pollutants. Opt for N95/N99 respiratory masks which filter out particulate matter and help you to breathe cleaner air. Nasal filters also work effectively in filtering polluted air.
3. Prefer public transport or carpooling
Opt for public transport or carpooling instead of private vehicles to reduce traffic and pollution. This way you can do your bit in reducing pollution in your city. Avoid areas that are highly congested to lower the risk of pollution.
4. Invest in indoor plants
Indoor plants have been found to absorb the poisonous gaseous contaminants through their leaves and roots and help you to fight indoor pollution. Invest in indoor plants such as aloe vera, peace lily, spider plant and bamboo palm that you can add to your workplace and house.
5. Use air purifiers
One of the most simple and effective ways to improve indoor air quality and prevent the health risks associated with household pollution is to buy an air purifier. Using air purifiers can significantly reduce the level of pollutants in your room and help you breathe clean air.
Air pollution is an alarming global health crisis with grave consequences on the health right from kids to elders. However, with simple tips and tricks, you can fight pollution at home and help your family breathe clean air because #Hawa Saaf Ho Na Ho, Lungs Saaf Hone Chahiye for a healthy life.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Air pollution and child health: prescribing clean air. Children’s environmental health. The World Health Organization (WHO).
2. Saha P, Johny E, Dangi A, et al. Impact of Maternal Air Pollution Exposure on Children’s Lung Health: An Indian Perspective. Toxics. 2018 Nov 16;6(4).