Clean Air, Healthy Lives

Living in a polluted place is like an open invitation to health issues. You might find yourself dealing with everyday problems like runny noses, itchy eyes, and a hard time breathing…writes Dr. Ambarish Joshi

Have you ever thought that air pollution is something that’s not affecting you directly? Then you need to take a look at what the WHO report says. It says that nearly 99% of the world’s population is exposed to air that is polluted beyond the recommended guidelines. This problem is even more critical in middle-income countries like India, where people face the highest levels of exposure.

From the usual suspects like sneezing and red eyes to more serious stuff like high blood pressure, fertility problems, and scary diseases like lung cancer, strokes, and heart attacks – this omnipresent pollution is causing more trouble than we realize. And guess what? Delhi recently earned itself a title Delhites are not so proud of– it’s now the world’s second most polluted city, according to Forbes. It means that if there’s air, there’s air pollution around us. And we’ve no other choice but to breathe it.

The puzzle of pollution

So, how does this pollution thing work? Well, it happens when chemicals get released into the air, either naturally or because of stuff humans do. These chemicals can be primary, going straight into the air, or secondary, forming when the primary ones mix with other stuff already in the atmosphere or with other pollutants. There’s a long list of these pollutants, and they’re everywhere – indoors and outdoors. Each of them brings its own set of problems.

Silent killer

Living in a polluted place is like an open invitation to health issues. You might find yourself dealing with everyday problems like runny noses, itchy eyes, and a hard time breathing. But it doesn’t stop there – pollution can mess with your health in big ways too. It’s behind things like chronic headaches, trouble getting pregnant, and even life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks, and nasty flare-ups of asthma or COPD.

A case study

Let’s understand the severity of air pollution with a real example– a case study from Delhi-based Primus Hospital. In January 2023, a 25-year-old woman, a non-smoker, was having a tough time with a runny nose, sore throat, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. She presented these signs at Primus Hospital OPD.

What came to light is that she’s had asthma since she was 17, with a family history. She had been using inhalers on and off and even had a few doctor visits for her asthma over the past 5 years. On top of that, she was suffering from allergic rhino sinusitis, but she was following the advice of an ear, nose, and throat specialist. But here’s the twist – she’s not feeling better. In fact, her health was getting worse. By April, she came back with the same issues. She had been following everything the doctor said and using her inhaler correctly. So, what’s the deal? Well, it turns out she moved from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi for work in November 2022. She was a salesperson, spending long hours outside every day, and it’s pretty clear that Delhi’s polluted air caused her health to nosedive.

This case drives home the point that air pollution can mess with your health, big time, even if you were healthy before. In case you are already suffering from an ailment like asthma-like in the case presented– then polluted air can take a heavy toll on your overall health.

Take preventive measures

As we all know prevention is always better than cure. Therefore, to protect yourself, stay indoors during heavy pollution, keep doors and windows shut, avoid outdoor workouts, wear masks, and follow local air quality advice religiously. Also, don’t forget to listen to your doctor, take prescribed meds, and have regular check-ups.

Need of the hour- A collective effort

The need of the hour is a collective effort because it’s not just the government’s job to clean up the air. Paying little attention to our daily actions that are causing pollution and making course correction efforts like carpooling, using public transport, and avoiding burning stuff outdoors can help us all build a society where we can not only live but breathe clean air.

The health effects of air pollution are serious – one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease are due to air pollution. Air pollution is an immediate and perhaps one of the biggest health concerns today, inflicting harm on our present and upcoming generations. It’s time we all stand together and make our air breathable again by actions that are in our control.

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