Impact of Air Pollution on Healthcare
How to Lessen the Damaging Effects of Air Pollution?
Air pollution affects 9 out of 10 people and is responsible directly and indirectly to about 7 million deaths every year. There are two main types of air pollution – ambient (outdoor pollution) and household (or indoor) air pollution. The latter refers to pollution generated by household combustion of fuels (caused by burning fuel such as coal, wood, or kerosene) using open fires or essential stoves in poorly ventilated spaces. Both are complementary since the polluted air moves freely between the indoor and the outside environment.
According to WHO, the significant harmful particles are those with PM size less than 2.5 microns. 7 out of 10 most polluted cities are in India, the majority of them being in North India.
The significant effects of polluted air are on the cardio-respiratory system. They include asthma, breathing difficulties, obstructive lung diseases, fibrosis, etc. In people with asthma, there may be wheezing, chest tightening, and further respiratory distress.
Air pollution affects the musculoskeletal system, as well. People living in highly polluted zones show weaker bone strength and more risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Air pollution has shown to affect the reproductive functions of males and females alike. In males, there has been psychological distress, reduced libido, and more inferior sperm quality. In females, exposure to air pollution has a higher chance of congenital disabilities and congenital anomalies.
Following are how one can limit the effects of air pollution on one’s health:
Preventing and Minimising Indoor Air Pollution:
Air purifiers have mixed scientific evidence with regards to their efficacy. They are particularly helpful to people with allergies. They are proposed to lower the levels of stress hormones, blood pressure, and insulin resistance, according to a study. They are efficient in removing dust, pollen, and smoke from the air.
Smoking must be banned, and the use of chulhas/ wood-fuelled gas stoves must be avoided. The smoking of tobacco is a crucial source of air pollution indoors and outdoors. Active smoking is not only harmful to the person who smokes but also to the close contacts and family members of such persons through passive smoking.
Automobile Pollution and High-traffic areas:
Avoid particle pollution. Combustion emissions from car and truck engines as well as from power plants release CO2, NO2, and SO2 in the atmosphere. The automobile industry, including the aviation industry, is the most significant contributor to air pollution. Thus, one must protect oneself if one lives in a highly polluted area. Wearing protective masks is advised in people living near coal-powered thermal power plants or dense traffic areas.
Outdoor exercises should be avoided. Keep Windows closed during the daytime during such traffic hours. During the night when pollution is relatively on the lower side, one can open them again for ventilation. Rural areas have relatively cleaner air. However, with massive urbanization, such divides are now obsolete.
In persons with Pre-existing disease:
Air pollution would have more health effects on those who have pre-existing heart disease or other cardio-respiratory problems. Such people are advised to take their medications regularly to decrease their susceptibility to the harmful effects of pollution.
Dietary Modification and Exercise:
An improvement in the diet by including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins would help to build a proper immunity. Besides, it would also provide the person with anti-oxidants and delay premature aging. Ant-oxidants destroy the free radicals generated during chemical reactions in the body and prevent damage to various organs. Regular exercise, up to 30 minutes a day or 3 hours a week, would release endorphins in one’s system. They lead to positive well-being and relieve stress. Also, they help in improving one’s lung ventilation and cardiac activity tolerance.
Reducing one’s Carbon-Footprint:
In today’s era of global warming and climate change, concerted efforts are required at the individual, local and international levels. On a personal basis, one can choose cycling over bikes for short distances or use public transportations more frequently. Carpooling for a group of employees going to an everyday workplace will also help to cut down on emissions. At the governmental level, it has become mandatory in India, in metro cities to phase out diesel vehicles. These are replaced with CNG vehicles, including buses, autorickshaws, and taxis.
Also, from 1st April 2020, India has decided to adopt the Bharat Stage VI norms. Accordingly, all newly registered vehicles after 1st April would have a BS-VI certified engine with stricter emission norms. These would lead to more uniformity in global standards and make India at par with Euro VI standards.