This Diwali, here is a good news and there is a bad news. Good news is the air pollution levels at this time of the year are lower than the previous few years. And the bad news is, these levels are still bad. But the irony is that we are so used to “Unhealthy” levels of air that we breathe, that we don’t even notice till it is “Very Severe”. And these “Very Severe” days are coming soon, thanks to onset of winter which brings Smog, stubble burning around Delhi / NCR. Pollution levels usually peak after Diwali, partly contributed by burning of crackers. Although a blanket ban on crackers by Supreme Court had not caused any dent last year. A deadly cocktail of decreased temperature, humidity, low air movement with stubble burning leads to this condition. Moreover the construction and the fuel guzzling personal vehicles will continue to pollute even more, neither is there any hope of a better public transport, in near future, that may give some respite to pollution. And if that is not enough, there are increased chances of flu and other viral respiratory infections during the winter season. Common flu and other viral infections lead to severe loss of immunity, although temporarily, but that short span of few days of low immunity make you vulnerable for serious secondary infections, especially in extremes of age group.
What to do then? Leave Delhi?? Moving out of Delhi during Diwali is neither practical nor feasible for most of the residents, although a small proportion of elderly patients who can afford to move out, do so during polluted winters in Delhi. But majority of us cannot leave our home, family, work and stay here to breathe the unhealthy air. Here are few tips that may help you fight the menace of pollution to some extent.
So, what are we left with – Self-help, I guess! The following tips, in the form of self-help, although do not provide immunity to the ill effects of pollution and cold weather but will help you fight the evils of pollution. In the following write up, I have discussed about the care, precautions and gadgets at personal level and what you can do as a society to reduce the level of pollution.
A hydrated body is a healthy body. Hydration is known to be the best defense system for our body. Drink plenty of water every day, unless your physician advised not to drink water, as happens if you are suffering from kidney disease or heart disease. Same is the case with antioxidants, they defend you from deadly microorganisms. Take plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, preferably raw. The aged, young kids and pregnant females are more at risk and need to take more care during these times of year. Similarly, those suffering from Heart diseases, Kidney diseases, COPD, Asthma, Diabetes etc. or who are on immunosuppression or steroids for any reasons are particularly at risk. Those who fall in this category need to be more vigilant. Ask your physician if you need an Influenza or Pneumonia vaccination. These vaccines are known to decrease the chances of infections.
Once the smog hits the city, and the air becomes visibly foggy and dusty, avoid strenuous exercises, during early hours and near roads with heavy traffic. A light stroll after sunrise in a park is better. While driving, it’s better to roll up the windows. Stay away from Smoking and Hukkah. Make sure you have a good sleep, which will rejuvenate your body.
Indoor pollution can be many fold higher than the outdoors. The pollution gets concentrated indoors due to lack of proper ventilation. Moreover there are various factors that add to the indoor pollution are kitchen fumes, perfumes, paints, animal dander, mosquito coil / agarbatti fumes, cigarette smoke etc. There are objects that attracts and accumulate the dust and other particulate matters like carpet, rugs, upholstery, furniture, curtains etc. To minimize the indoor air pollution avoid burning coils / agarbatti and use of room spray or insecticide spray. Cigarette smoking with in home should be strictly prohibited, as the smoke not only harms you but your non-smoking family members as well, for no fault of theirs. Replace your age old brooms with vacuum cleaners and wet mopping. Roll up the carpets and wash curtains regularly.
Air purifiers are selling like hot cakes these days. Although there are no studies that prove any clinically significant positive outcomes in patients with respiratory illness, but these purifiers are good to have, especially if you have small kids or elderly parents at home. They are the ones who stay indoors most of the time. HEPA filter based air purifiers are better than the others as they do not emit ozone.
Masks of various shapes, sizes and quality are available in the market, but they do not offer any protection. On the contrary, if not used properly, may even harm you. I do not advice the use of masks to my patients.
As a society, we can car pool or use the public transport to decrease the emission. Even while driving following traffic rules and switching off the engine when idle e.g. on red lights is recommended. Do not burn litter and alert the authorities if you see burning trash around you. Plant more trees. Dispose of the household waste in proper and recommended manner.
As a citizen it is not only our duty but our right to keep up the pressure on the incumbent govt to take measures to reduce the pollution. Infrastructure developments like ring roads to divert the traffic that is not destined in the city helps a lot in reducing pollution. Use of alternate fuel, promoting electric vehicles and having dedicated lanes for cycles has yielded better results elsewhere in the world. Policy measures like prevention of burning of stubble and providing alternate measures to the affected farmers should be a priority for the govt of the day.