Nearly half of Delhi’s 4.4 million school children suffer from irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air, wrote New York Times journalist Gardiner Harris in his last post from the capital after a three-year-assignment.
The shocking article that went viral on social media and reproduced by some dailies reflected the concerns of thousands of parents whose children are suffering from severe respiratory problems, unable to deal with the rising pollutants and toxic particles in the capital’s air.
Harris wrote about how his 8-year old son, Bram, began gasping for breath nine months after he moved with his family to Delhi. Such terrifying experiences are common for parents in the capital where an increasing number of children suffer from coughing and wheezing, symptoms of a much more dangerous malaise.
Pallavi Sinha, 40, is scouting for a house in Pune. The Sinhas had moved to Indirapuram in Ghaziabad 10 years ago. But when their 10-year-old daughter Smriti suffered an asthma attack on Diwali last year, they decided to move out of the city. “We had started to fear Diwali ever since we moved to Delhi from Patna a decade ago. Smriti’s collapse last October because of high air pollution was the last straw, we’re all moving to Pune,” said Sinha, speaking to HT from Pune.
When they had moved to Delhi, Sinha’s older daughter Ahana was 5 and Smriti was just a few months old. The baby first developed signs of lung distress at the age 3, which progressively became worse. At school, she occasionally faints on exertion. “It is hard to make friends at school as I can’t run and join them in sports,” says Smriti, 10. Ahana’s lungs took a hit at the age of 11, after she had spent six years in Delhi. Both have been diagnosed with asthma and use inhalers.
Asthma has jeopardised Saksham Sharma’s childhood too, with the 12-year old spending all day playing video games or watching TV. “I hate it when other kids play outside and I have to sit at home. At school, too, I’m excused from sports because of my bad lungs,” says Sharma.
Doctors say that even mild symptoms must not be ignored.
“Many doctors treat the exacerbations and attacks and do not bother with baseline asthma control, which is critical. A child who may not become breathless may have an attack the moment his/her system is challenged, like when he goes out to play, and the lungs collapse,” says paediatrician Dr Anupam Sibal, director, hospital services, Apollo Hospitals.
Since most medicines, specially inhalers, contain steroids, it triggers weight gain.
Dr Sibal explains that asthma can be managed effectively with medicines but parents need to follow-up regularly so that the medication can be enhanced or reduced as per the requirements of the case.
“I’m really careful about what he eats, but we can’t ration his medicine,” says Saksham’s grandmother Usha Sharma, 66, who looks after him when his parents are at work.
Every bit helps, as Saksham’s grandfather PD Sharma, 75, has found out. He has created a micro-garden in his terrace for Sakham to spend time in. “I love gardening but the main reason for these plants is Saksham’s health. Delhi’s pollution is a nightmare for my grandson, I’m just doing the best I can for him,” says Sharma.