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Something in the air

Air pollution raises your chances of getting seasonal flu, including H1N1, apart from causing a clutch of health problems that range from asthma attacks to chest infections and heart disease, writes Rhythma Kaul.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 17, 2013 01:35 IST
Rhythma Kaul

Breathing cleaner air not only saves you from asthma attacks, bronchitis and other respiratory infections, but also protects you from seasonal influenza, which is the leading cause of cough, colds and fever in the young and old alike.

Half of urban India breathes air with pollutants that exceed the permissible limit, with one- third of them living in critically polluted areas.

In fact, air pollution ranked as the fifth largest killer in India, killing an estimated 6 lakh people prematurely, according to the findings of Global Burden of Disease report, jointly released by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Indian Council of Medical Research and other agencies in the Capital last week.

The polluted air not only aggravates symptoms among people with previous history of chest infections such as asthma, bronchitis, respiratory distress syndrome etc., but also makes healthy people prone to developing various respiratory tract allergies and infections over a period of time.

“Air pollution is known to have adverse health effects, but it is impossible to escape it as it is all over, with our general air quality being low.

"It does increase the risk of respiratory infections and allergies manifold, especially among children. Children with low immunity, low birth weight and other conditions are at a higher risk,” said Dr VK Paul, head of department, pediatrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Continuous exposure to the most common air pollutants — sulfur-oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter — lowers immunity and increases the risk of seasonal infections, like H1N1, popular known as swine flu.

“The number of admissions in our hospital goes up by 20% during winters when pollution levels are higher due to smog and thick air that is difficult to breathe. Mostly we get cases of chronic bronchitis and pneumonia aggravated by air pollution.

"There is no treatment as such; we put them on anti-allergics and anti-biotics. In extreme cases, intensive care is required,” said Dr SP Byotra, chairman, department of internal medicine, Ganga Ram Hospital.

Since locking ourselves indoors is not possible, doctors advise precautions while stepping out.

“Keep your nose and mouth covered when going out during early morning or evenings; avoid dusty and smoky places; keep inhaler always handy and try and have warm liquids as much as possible,” said Dr Byotra.

Same goes for children. “It’s not possible to move kids to cleaner environments and they will not stop going out, so the best would be to let them be. Be a little cautious when pollution is at its peak, and we also manage high-risk children with appropriate medicines,” said Dr Paul.