For the past couple of years, people queuing up outside medical shops to buy a respirator mask is a common sight just before the onset of winter. Each year the air quality at this time of the year in Delhi degrades to reach a dangerous level which can severely damage the health of its residents. According to some doctors, breathing at the level of pollutant particles in Delhi is equal to smoking several cigarettes in a day. Though the number of firecrackers being sold during Diwali was significantly reduced in 2017, automobile emissions, chemical plants, dust resulting from the construction of new buildings, and stubble burning in north Indian farmlands have contributed to adding polluting particulate matter in the air. The air quality index on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, was at a severe level with a reading of “451” on a scale that has a maximum reading of 500. The Central Pollution Control Board considers ratings above 100 to be unhealthy – which means that according to this particular scale, the people of Delhi are currently being exposed to four times the unhealthy limit of air quality. The condition of air in Delhi right now is so dangerous that the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called it an “Emergency Situation” and advisories to keep schools shut have been issued. The smog that occurs during this time of the year is likely to stay for a week or longer due to the lack of wind and precipitation which is causing an inversion effect resulting in the particulate matter being trapped in the air that we’re breathing. It is inadvisable to step out when the air quality is severe as it can cause respiratory ailments and also aggravate symptoms of pre-existing respiratory conditions. Smog is extremely dangerous to an individual’s health as it can cause mild symptoms like irritation in the eyes to life-threatening conditions like emphysema and bronchitis. Young children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions are at maximum risk due to the toxic smog. Toxic smog greatly impacts the day-to-day life of people as schools and colleges are advised to remain closed and taking part in outdoor activities is greatly discouraged. The smog can prove to be extremely dangerous for people susceptible to allergies, those who are suffering from respiratory conditions, and people with a weakened immune system.
Coping with Severe Air Pollution The choking feeling along with irritation in the upper respiratory system is evident to everyone breathing the city air right now. While it’s not possible to take off each day while the smog lasts, it is crucial to protect ourselves from the effects of the pollutants in the air. Even if we decide to stay indoors, the effects of pollution can also be present in the air indoors.
- Diet - It is advised by doctors to maintain a healthy immune system by staying hydrated, eating foods rich in vitamin C, Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E. These foods help fight off free radicals and keep the immune system strong. Various ayurvedic doctors suggest that supplements such as milk thistle and turmeric are also beneficial to avoid the harmful effects of smog on the immune system.
- Respirator Masks - Masks are great equipment to breathe easily when the air is extremely polluted. A respirator mask can be reusable or disposable. The reusable masks are ideal for long term use and are equipped with activated carbon and a filter that needs to be replaced every 3-4 days. Masks have different types of filters known as the ‘N’, ‘R’, and ‘P’ type of filter. The ‘N’ filter type is efficient at removing the nonoily particulate matter and aerosols, the ‘R’ type filters can filter out the oily particulate matter as well as nonoily aerosols but have a short life of approximately 8 hours, the ‘P’ type filter is the multipurpose filter that not only provides protection from both oily and nonoily particulate matter but also has an extended life. The N type filter is usually recommended for use in Delhi during times of severe pollution. The right respirator mask should have the right filter efficiency, the right fit, and should be bought only after comparing prices. The N95 air masks are usually the most commonly preferred masks as they are capable of filtering 95% of the PM 2.5 particulate matter efficiently.
- Air Purifiers – Air purifiers are essential to clear the indoor air of contaminants, toxic particulate matter, and allergens. The air purifier should ideally be equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air filter or HEPA filter which can efficiently eliminate particulate matter. The size of the room should be taken into consideration while buying an air purifier that would be able to clear the entire room’s air.
- Plants – Several plants such as areca palm, money plant, ivy, spider plant, and peace lilies are known to have air-purifying properties. These plants can help purify carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and styrene from the air. These plants are known to be low maintenance plants and can be taken care of easily. It’s a wise decision to line your balconies and gardens with pots and planters containing these plants as an additional step to combat pollution while beautifying your space.
- Nebulizer – A nebulizer may be necessary in cases of severe respiratory ailments and respiratory emergencies due to smog and pollution. The patients suffering from severe symptoms arising due to air pollution should immediately contact a physician.