Ways to breathe easy

Ways to breathe easy

Poor air quality is causing major damage to the respiratory system in children and adults, writes Dr Vishwanath Bellad


According to WHO, 10 out of the 20 most-polluted cities in the world are in India. Air pollution is a major concern faced by a large population in our country. Toxic air negatively impacts human health and the environment. A healthy adult on an average breathes approximately 8,600 lts of air. The surface area of lung exposed to air is approximately 75 square metres, which is roughly half the size of a tennis court. Therefore, any pollution of ambient air will have a deleterious effect on the respiratory system at large, and other systems as well. Air pollution is aggravated by rapid industrialisation, unchecked growing cities and increased traffic which have amplified the consumption of energy from conventional sources. The primary source of particulate matter in India is emissions from industries, power plants, vehicles, construction activities, biomass combustion and waste burning.

Air pollution has become a growing risk factor for ill health, contributing to the country’s burden of diseases. The burden of disease attributable to air pollution exposure is defined in terms of mortality and Disability-Adjusted Life Years lost (DALY). As per the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) comparative risk assessment in the year 2015, air pollution exposure contributed to approximately 1.8 million premature deaths and 49 million (DALY). A recent World Bank report pegged the associated economic loss at 8% of GDP.

Today, individuals spend at least 75% of their day in an indoor environment which includes residence and workplaces. Indoor activities such as cooking, heating, cleaning, burning incense, tobacco smoking, refrigeration and air conditioning are all contributors to indoor air pollution. In India, close to 60% of households use cheap and dirty fuel such as biomass fuel (dung cake, firewood, charcoal, crop residue) for cooking and heating. This leads to the emission of pollutants such as particulate matter, elemental and organic carbon, carbon monoxide, NO2 etc.

Health impacts

Exposure to air pollution, both household and ambient, is associated with a variety of acute and chronic health effects ranging from minor physiological disturbances to death from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The health effects depend on the duration of exposure, concentration of pollutant in the air rate and depth of breathing. Infants have a high respiratory rate and hence larger exposure to pollution. People with pre-existing chronic lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or cardio vascular diseases are more vulnerable.

Preventive control

Promoting economical, yet safe alternative sources of energy such as gobar gas and LPG or solar energy for cooking helps in preventing air pollution.

To reduce air pollution, it is essential to follow stringent emission norms of vehicles, establish periodic inspections and controlled manufacture of vehicles, promote mass transport system and adopt cleaner fuels.

* Formulating and implementing legislations, policies and programmes to protect air quality.

 * Establishing and monitoring the standards of air quality for difficult areas such as residential, industrial and rural.

* Use eco-friendly products in houses as it will further reduce the emission of toxic gases.

* Planting trees can largely reduce air pollution. Trees have a unique ability to clean the polluted air of gases such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

* It is essential to encourage our future generation to use public transport rather than driving as it will reduce pollution and the cluttering of vehicles which emit harmful gases.

* It is important to opt for eco-friendly and renewable sources of energy such as wind energy, solar energy and hydropower.

* Avoid smoking inside the house: Smoking in a confined space increases the probability of secondhand smoking, which causes serious health problems to other family members.

* Using a fan instead of AC as it takes a lot less power and energy. 

* Taking some simple precautions can help boost air quality and improve our health.

 (The author is consultant,pulmonology, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals)