Diwali and Beyond: A guide to surviving the deteriorating air quality

4th October, 2017, Bangalore: Air quality in general and indoor air in particular has become a matter of serious concern across India. Festival seasons like Diwali see a sharp rise in the levels of air pollution. During Diwali the level of pollutants like SO2, NO2 as well as particulate matter smaller than 10μ meter (PM2.5 and PM 10) rise almost seven to eight times higher than the standard level. The levels of these particulate matter, specially PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers), have serious health implications as these tend to get lodged in the lung and can even enter the bloodstream. Another fact we often forget is that, indoor air i.e air inside our homes and offices can be actually 2 to 5 times more1 polluted than outside. You may be shocked to learn that some of the most commonly used household products can cause indoor air to be so polluted. Paints, disinfectants, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored fuels, office copiers and printers, human skin and hair, cooking and even dry-cleaned clothing could contribute to poor indoor air quality.

Apart from this, the location of your home and certain activities inside can decide the level of indoor air pollution inside. If your home has any of the following, it is very likely to have high concentrations of particulate matter – PM2.5 and PM10.

  • Construction activity nearby
  • Close to a running road
  • A continuously running road
  • Household pets
  • Candle or cigarette smoke

According to WHO 4.3 million2 premature deaths take place annually due to prolonged exposure to indoor air pollution. Exposure to bad air quality may lead to initial symptoms like coughing, irritation in eyes, asthma or wheezing, tiredness. But prolonged exposure in the long run may have serious consequences on our health like stroke, Ischemic heart disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease(COPD) and even lung cancer.

Though everyone is affected by indoor air pollution, certain types of people are more susceptible. Infants are the worst affected as they stay indoors most of the time and also breathe more per minute than adults do. Young children, aged persons, patients of asthma, allergies or repeated respiratory infections are affected badly due to breathing of PM2.5 and PM10. In fact, as most of us stay indoors 90% of the time, either at home or at office, exposure to poor indoor air quality can be very damaging. The key to maintaining your health is reducing your time of exposure to poor air quality, and one way of doing that is by ensuring better air quality indoors.

It has become necessary for individuals to now actively monitor air quality levels – in their cities and in their homes. You can refer to online resources like AQI index online (http://aqicn.org/map/india/ ) to know the level of PM2.5 in your city and invest in PM2.5 indicators available in the market to monitor the same in your home.

Apart from this, you can follow these tips to stay healthy in light of the deteriorating air quality across the country:

1. Clean the Indoor Air:

It is a good idea to invest in some mechanism for cleaning air at home or office. There are products in the market today which can be used with your existing wall-mounted AC to clean the air of PM2.5 without the filter taking any extra space or running cost. Running it even one hour per day is an effective way to keep the air cleaner. Alternately, you may invest in an air purifier for your home and office.

2. Wear Respirators (Not Masks ) when Outdoors

Respirators are designed to help reduce the wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants i.e particles that are small enough to be inhaled – particles less than 100 microns (μm) in size. This includes airborne particles like PM2.5 / PM10. A respirator rated N95(NIOSH Approved) filters out more than 95% of particles (PM) larger than 0.3 microns — that’s much smaller even than PM2.5 microns. This is a good thing, since most of air pollution’s bad health effects are caused by particles 2.5 microns and smaller.

3. Stay away from Fire-crackers

Bombs, flower pots and wheels produce a lot of smoke with chemicals like potassium, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide which can set off wheezing or coughing, especially in those prone to allergic infections.

4. Avoid outdoor exercises

Breathing heavily during that cardio workout will draw pollution deeper into the lungs, increasing the chances of respiratory ailments. Hence, monitor AQ in your locality or city and avoid outdoor exercise at least until levels drop below the prescribed limit. Even allergic cough and breathing problems in little children can be averted by spending the evening indoors.

5. Keep medicines handy & consult your doctor (if necessary)

The best way to deal with polluted indoor air is to keep it clean. However, you must never ignore sustained symptoms. Keep your allergy kit ready with the required medicines, inhalers and nebulizers in case you have a family member with respiratory illness. If you develop symptoms like persistent cough, running nose and, headache, do consult a doctor. People with asthma can increase their medication and should immediately consult their doctor if their symptoms worsen.

Clean and fresh air is a wonderful gift. This Diwali celebrate responsibly and keep our air clean inside and out.

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