With an alarming rise in air pollution level in Delhi, the ‘severe’ air quality has put the nation’s capital on a ventilator again. Even stepping out of the house has become a public health concern. The rise in air pollution levels has made the government announce several emergency pollution control measures including shutting down primary schools till November 10, heavy vehicle movement restrictions within the city, and encouraging working from home. The government has also announced the odd-even rule for cars starting from November 13.
How is it increasing infections?
Doctors in Delhi are already seeing an increase in viral infections, thanks to foul air. “Whenever air pollution increases, there is a spike in viral and bacterial infections. Particulate matter PM2.5 carries viral, bacteria, and fungal spores deeper into the lungs and cause pneumonia, especially among the high-risk groups like children, elderly, pregnant women and people with underlying comorbidities,” says Dr Davinder Kundra, consultant pulmonologist, Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, Delhi. He added that the toxic air quality, and polluted air reduces the immunity of lungs, making the vulnerable catch infections like pneumonia.
Delhi air pollution has also resulted in an increase in the hospital’s OPD footfalls, 50-60 % in the last ten days, says Dr Kundra. Besides, one in every two hospitalized individuals is suffering from respiratory issues, he added.
Those with underlying conditions like Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) have noticed that their symptoms have increased. Dr Kundra recalls the case of a 40-year-old man with asthma who was quite stable just three weeks ago, and recently needed medical help when he developed congested chest and wheezing. “He had to be admitted. He was on oxygen support for 48 hours and improved. That was the first time he needed oxygen support,” Dr Kundra adds.
Dr Kundra adds that even those who do not have any respiratory diseases may develop symptoms like chest congestion, shortness of breath, and runny nose. “We are already seeing such cases with youngsters walking in with complaints of nasal itching, throat irritation, wheezing, whistle sound from the chest. Sore throat has been a common symptom,” said Dr Kundra, concerned over Delhi air pollution.
How air pollution affects each part of your body
Not just upper respiratory infections, air pollution has its effect on each of the human organs. “There are a lot of oxidative gasses- like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur-containing compounds which can penetrate deep into your lungs and cause oxidative stress or oxidative damage to lungs and also other body parts, says Dr Ankita Baidya, consultant infectious diseases, Manipal Hospitals, Delhi.
Dr Bobby Bhalotra, Vice Chairman and Senior Consultant, Chest Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi says that fine particulate matter of PM 2.5 can enter your airways and through your lungs, it can travel to other parts of your body, causing inflammation and thus affecting several organs.
The organ that first gets affected by breathing polluted air is however, your lungs. “Early morning air is heavier and cooler, so the smog is near the surface. So, if you are jogging early morning amidst smog, and doing deep inhalation with the exercises, then you would inhale polluted air more in the lungs. Indoor exercises are suggested,” says Dr Baidya.
Dr Bhalotra says that one of the immediate effects of inhaling polluted air is felt on the respiratory tract- it can cause coughing, chest pain, irritation in the throat, and breathing difficulties.
Toxic pollutants can travel to your lungs, increasing the risk of bronchitis. The bronchi tend to contract (become narrower) when there is inflammation. Chronic exposure can also lead to lung cancer and increased risk of asthma, say experts.
Spike in air pollution levels can also affect the skin, causing skin itching and irritation.
Due to exposure of the eyes to air pollution, one may experience watering of the eyes, redness and irritation. It also leads to dry eyes.
According to research conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short-term exposure to increased concentrations of PM 2.5 can trigger cardiovascular disease-related heart attacks and deaths while longer exposure can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
Consuming plenty of anti-oxidants helps to build your immunity and decrease oxidative stress of the pollutants. Consuming fruits, vegetables and supplements like omega3 fatty acids, and vitamin E with a doctor’s prescription will help, says Dr Baidya. “Oxidative stress also hampers other organs of your body and can lead to strokes and other cardiac issues,” he adds.
Air-pollution and dehydration
Dr Kundra adds that air pollution can lead to dehydration. Many are having headache, muscle aches, which are the non-respiratory symptoms of air pollution. “During winter, when the temperature dips, one would not feel very thirsty and skip water intake. This can lead to generalized weakness, headache, and some sensations that they can’t explain. When the body is not enough hydrated, it can lead to low-immunity and can lead to infections,” he said.
Need to control indoor air pollution
When outdoor pollution increases, indoor air pollution also increases. Best to avoid anything that increases indoor pollution, like the incense sticks. Instead use air purifiers, you can have indoor plants which produce more oxygen. Keep the windows closed.
Delhi air pollution has been a matter of utmost concern, as stubble burning in north India continues. The toxic air shrouding the city has already led to a spike in viral infections. The air we breathe turns foul, leaves no organ unaffected and hampers individual’s wellbeing. Not just that, stepping out of the house has been a matter of safeguarding oneself with precautionary measures.