Delhi Air Pollution Facts.Tips To Protect Your Health This Diwali.

For the past 5-6 years, Diwali in Delhi is all about air pollution. Delhi has gone ahead of Beijing and Dhaka which till recently were among the top most polluted cities in the world. The combination of smoke and fog better known as SMOG grips the city every year leading to various harmful effects on the health of the general public. Even after Diwali is gone, the public continues to be exposed to the health hazards of this toxic air in the months that follow. The air pollution has reached such high levels in the past few years that the city was once equated with a “gas chamber” by Mr. Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s very own Deputy Chief Minister.

November and December are the peak tourist months in New Delhi which also coincides with peak levels of air pollution. But if you look at Indian Government Tourism websites or tourism offices, no warning or any precautionary information is given about the same.

So what a person like you, who is planning to visit or has landed in Delhi this festive season should do to save yourself from the deadly effects of air pollution. 

With time, air pollution has become a big health hazard in Delhi. But if you are well informed about the relevant facts related to air pollution,you can protect your health from this menace. 

In the subsequent sections of this blog, you will get some useful information about air pollution and some tips to keep you and your family members safe from its toxic effects. So by the time you finish this blog, you will be much better prepared to face this issue when you land in Delhi.

What is smog and how it is produced?

Smog is one of the most toxic and visible types of air pollution. It is produced when various air pollutants (nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds (VOC)) released from automobiles, factories, react in the presence of sunlight, leading to the formation of fine visible airborne particles.

Why every year Delhi faces severe air pollution in the Diwali season?

Delhi which is already choked with emissions of fuel consumption from motor vehicles and industries receives additional blows in this part of the year. These problems are both environmental and man-made.

As the monsoon season ends, the lower layers of atmosphere start trapping the pollutants and dust particles, because the moisture in the air decreases and the winds die down.

The illegal practice of burning of crop stubble/residue by the farmers in the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana, U.P., is one of the foremost reasons why Delhi suffers from harmful effects of air pollution in November and December every year. Recently Delhi Government have shared NASA satellite images of burning of crop residue (despite ban by supreme court) in the capital and the near buy areas.

The burning of firecrackers by the whole city to celebrate Diwali also hurts the air quality.

Which population is at the maximum risk?

Although every individual who is exposed to this toxic air has a risk of suffering from air pollution-related health issues. But the following individual groups have got a higher chance of suffering from the effects of air pollution (1) (2) :
  • Children:
    Because of their low immunity and high outdoor activities, children have increased chances of suffering from air pollution-related diseases.
  • Elderly:
    Old age is associated with low immunity status, poor lung, and heart function. This predisposes elderly people to severe lung and heart diseases related to the toxic effects of air pollution.
  • People with coexisting Lung and heart diseases:
    People with compromised lung and heart have increased chances of getting ill in this season.
  • People with outdoor activities:
    Labourers, traffic policemen, drivers are at higher risk of suffering because of their prolonged duration of exposure to air pollution.
  • People with comorbid illness:
    Diabetics and obese people are more vulnerable to the dangerous effects of air pollution, as their immunity is low, and also most of these people have a poor heart and lung function.
  • Smokers:
    Due to their poor lung function, smokers are also at risk of suffering from pollution related effects.

How air pollution harms your body and your overall health?

The hospital admissions related to heart and lung diseases increase every year during this air pollution season. Effects of air pollution on various body organs are (3) (4) :
  • Lungs:
    • Coughing
    • Throat irritation
    • Decreased lung function
    • Exacerbation of asthma
    • Increased risk of lung infection and bronchitis
  • Heart
    • Risk of Heart attack increases with continuous exposure
    • Increased risk of Heart failure
    • Irregular heartbeat
  • Skin
    • Itching and redness of the skin
    • Risk of Skin cancer increases
  • Brain
    • Headache
    • Dizziness and confusion
  • Eyes
    • Itching
    • Redness
    • Tearing of eyes

Also the risk of lung and urinary tract cancer is also increased with exposure to air pollutants (3).

How you can save your loved ones from this menace?

  • Stay indoors and avoid exposure. The duration of exposure is one of the most important factors deciding the effects of air pollution on your body. The longer you are in contact, the higher your chances are to succumb to air pollution-related diseases. Travel in the city only if necessary.
  • Use a face mask when traveling outside. The best face masks available are N95, N99, and N100. Their names are based on the percentage of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) particles they filter. N95 filters 95%, N99 filters 99% and N100 Filters 99.9% of PM2.5 particles. Also Don’t waste your money on surgical masks and other similar masks, as these will do no good in preventing inhalation of toxic air particles. Use goggles while driving bike, to cover your eyes.
  • Try to avoid diffusion of outdoor air, inside your rooms. It is difficult to do, but you can keep your doors and windows closed. The use of exhaust fans should be kept at a minimum.
  • Use air purifiers in your rooms to clean indoor air. Always go for a good quality air purifier from a reputed company. When comparing air purifiers, check their HEPA filtration and a higher maximum air-exchange rate
  • Keep yourself updated about the air pollution levels in different areas of Delhi. Delhi Government is giving live area wise data about the air pollution levels in Delhi Pollution Control Committee website.
  • Avoid high-intensity physical activities and work out sessions especially outdoors like in parks or streets or near traffic lights. Exercise is beneficial for health but you should avoid till the level of air pollution comes down. These activities can result in breathing problems or precipitation of an already existing respiratory disease.
  • Consume fish oil supplementations (rich in antioxidants like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) and vegetables that are rich in sulforaphane based antioxidants like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli These antioxidants will boost your immunity levels and help your body to fight stress and infections.
  • Avoid both active and passive smoking both indoors and outdoors. Never smoke or allow anyone to smoke near you.

However, still, we would say, the best and the most effective solution is to AVOID TRAVELLING TO DELHI IN DIWALI SEASON till the Government and the people find a permanent solution to this grave health problem.

Dr. Rishab Sharma

Dr. Rishab Sharma MBBS, MD (Internal Medicine) He is associated with Fortis Escorts Hospital, Jaipur. Dr. Rishab has wide experience in managing a variety of diseases, as well as managing critical care units in large government and corporate hospitals.

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