Sarita Surana, 52, skips her morning walks on days when the roads are dusty and the pollution levels are high. She has been living with asthma and bronchitis for 15 years and uses an inhaler daily to dilate her airways and help her breathe. On the days the inhaler fails to help her, she uses a nebuliser, a device that helps in inhaling the drugs better.
“I have to be very careful because of my asthma. Before going anywhere, I go to the balcony and if their air is too polluted, I either don’t go out or use a mask. Sometimes, I feel tired after being out for an hour,” said Surana.
Like her, adopting measures to protect themselves from pollution as become a part of routine for many thousands, especially during the smoggy winter months.
“Air pollution causes short-term problems like cough, sore throat and eye irritation for most people, but people with chronic respiratory disorders such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) may need medical management when pollution levels go up,” said Dr Rajesh Chawla, consulting pulmonologist at Indraprastha Apollo hospital.
“Every winter,there is a spike in the number of patients with respiratory problems. This could be due to the concentration of pollution in the lower levels of the atmosphere, but also because of dipping temperatures and viral infections doing rounds,” said Dr Nevin Kishore, head of the department of broncology at Max Hospital, Saket.
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An increase in the number of people living with chronic respiratory problem is also linked to pollution. “A report by the Central Pollution Control Board said every third child in Delhi has some kind of lung impairment,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhary, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment .
CHANGE THE AIR
“Delhi is proof that the pollution trends can change, depending on the actions that we take. There was a visible reduction in the levels of pollution when the buses in the city switched to CNG in 2011, but it started going up again in 2008–09. This means we have been unable to maintain the momentum,” she said.
To improve the air quality, a source-wise pollution control strategy has to be made.
“Vehicular emissions, construction and demolition of buildings and trash burning are among the main reasons for pollution . To control trash burning, the corporations need to ensure that a proper collection mechanism and enough composting facilities are in place. The Centre has already come up with rules for dust control during construction and demolition, but this has to be strictly enforced,” said Roy Chowdhary.
Several actions need to be taken to control vehicular emissions. “The number of cars that get registered in the city has to be controlled. For that the government needs to improve the connectivity of metro and buses, make cycle tracks, make cleaner fuels available and improve the emission standards. To control the number of cars entering from across the border, high parking prices may be charged to discourage people,” she said.
Around 1,400 new vehicles are registered in Delhi every day and around 5.7 lakh vehicles enter the city from across the border, which is equal to the number of vehicles that are registered in Delhi annually. “This is contributing to the pollution enormously. We need to focus on moving people but not vehicles,” she said.
Till policy measures ensure the air gets cleaner, people have to focus on protecting their lungs. People with chronic conditions must take prescribed medicines to control symptoms and avoid areas with high pollution and vehicular density,” said Dr Kishore.
Decreasing the exposure is the best solution. “People with such conditions must not travel during the rush hours and when in a car must roll up the windows. While stepping out, it is a good idea to cover the nose and the mouth either with a mask or a wet handkerchief.,’ says Dr Chawla.
Children’s developing airways are at most risk of damage from polluted air. “Everyone must ensure that their children go to schools that are 5 -6 km away to cut down on their commute time,” said Dr Chawla.
This is Part I of our ongoing series ‘Save our Lungs’, which looks at how to combat pollution in Delhi. To track the pollution levels in your city or area, use our real-time Air Quality Map: