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Air Pollution And Health - A Growing Emergency

  By : , Kochi , India       27.12.2017         Phone:0484 669 9999          Mail Now
  Kuttisahib Road, Near Kothad Bridge, South Chittoor, Cheranalloor, Kochi, Kerala 682027

Dr. Jacob Baby
Senior Consultant, Pulmonology
Aster Medcity, Kochi

A look at recent headlines in India and around the world shows one how air pollution is increasing around the world. “Red air pollution alert expands across Northern Taiwan” said a headline on 29th November. “Air pollution in Sofia, Bulgaria reaches levels that are 6 times above norms” and “Poland among Europe’s worst for smog” said other headlines on 30th November. Closer home, the national capital has been reeling from air pollution causing closure of schools and colleges. Even other cities and towns are getting affected with news showing “Air pollution on rise in Nizamabad city” and “Ukhrul town (in Manipur) chokes under high air pollution”!

Air pollution is today a public health emergency!

Even healthy people can be affected by polluted air causing respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities. The actual risk of adverse effects depends on an individual’s health status, the pollutant type and concentration, and the length of exposure to the polluted air.

Individuals who are more susceptible to health problems from air pollution include individuals with heart disease, coronary artery disease or Congestive heart failure; individuals with lung diseases such as Asthma , emphysema or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) ; pregnant women; outdoor workers; older adults and the elderly; children under age 14 and athletes who exercise vigorously outdoors. These people may experience health impacts at lower air pollution exposure levels, or their health effects may be of greater intensity.

Air pollution has both acute and chronic effects on human health, affecting a number of different systems and organs.

In addition, short- and long-term exposures have also been linked with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy.

High levels of air pollution can have immediate health problems in the short term. These include aggravation of existing cardiovascular and respiratory illness, stress on heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with adequate oxygen and damage to the cells in the respiratory system.

But what is of real concern is the permanent health effect and damage that exposure to air pollution over the long term can do. These include loss of lung capacity and decreased lung function, development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer, accelerated aging of the lungs and a shortened life span.

According to the World Health Organization, six major air pollutants include particle pollution, ground-level ozone, and hazardous gases and chemicals like carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. Different pollutants like particulate matter, ground level ozone, hazardous chemicals affect the body differently.

Particulate Matter is made of soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust, water and tire rubber. It can be directly emitted, as in smoke from a fire as the stubble burning on farms has caused it in the National Capital Region, or it can form in the atmosphere from reactions of gases such as nitrogen oxides. Small particles or fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, pose the greatest problems because they bypass the body’s natural defenses and can get deep into the lungs and potentially the bloodstream. Exposure to particulate pollution can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing or difficulty breathing with asthma attacks and acute bronchitis.

In the long term, exposure to particulate matter may lead to chronic health issues like decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic respiratory disease in children, chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease, irregular heartbeat, non-fatal heart attacks, premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer.

Ground-level ozone which is formed by reaction of volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen from cars, trucks, etc. with the sun's ultraviolet rays, can cause constriction of the airways and other health problems including wheezing, chest pain, dry throat, headache or nausea, serious respiratory disease like emphysema, bronchitis and asthma and lung damage. It can lead to reduced resistance to infections, an increased sense of fatigue and weakened athletic performance.

Hazardous gases and chemicals can also cause adverse effects on human health. Increased combustion of fossil fuels in the last century is responsible for the progressive change in the atmospheric composition.

Air pollution is a major problem of recent decades, which has a serious toxicological impact on human health and the environment. While tackling air pollution is crucial, it is also important to treat and manage the ill-effects on health by taking timely medical care.

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