DR ARVIND KU­MAR Pul­mo­nolo­gist and tho­racic sur­geon, Chair­man, Cen­tre for Chest Surgery & Lung Trans­plan­ta­tion & Di­rec­tor, In­sti­tute of Robotic Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hos­pi­tal, New Delhi

India Today - - HEALTH -

In­dia has the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the coun­try with the high­est num­ber of deaths due to air pol­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Yet, most In­di­ans are un­aware of the enor­mity of the prob­lem. Such is the level of air pol­lu­tion in our coun­try that ev­ery­one in In­dia can be called a smoker now. Think about it: we have 52 new­born smokers ev­ery minute. And ev­ery Del­hi­ite has smoked 10 cig­a­rettes ev­ery day in the past year.

What can peo­ple do to save them­selves? We breathe 25,000 times a day, in­hal­ing 10,000 litres of air on av­er­age ev­ery day, and in­hal­ing thou­sands of kilo­grams of tox­ins in each breath. About 99.99 per cent of those tox­ins come out, but a mi­nus­cule por­tion does not. As we keep breath­ing, 25,000 times a day, that tiny por­tion be­comes a chunk, gets de­posited in our lungs, ab­sorbed by body and

dam­ages brain, heart, kid­neys, re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem and ev­ery or­gan of the body.

In chil­dren, it can lead to neu­roin­flam­ma­tion which, it has been proved, leads to cog­ni­tive un­der­de­vel­op­ment, or low IQ. In adults, air pol­lu­tion leads to five to 10 times higher brain at­tacks (par­a­lytic); hy­per­ten­sion in peo­ple in their 20s and 30s; five to 10 times higher heart at­tacks in peo­ple liv­ing in pol­luted cities. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies show rise in hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion from heart at­tacks fol­low­ing spikes in par­tic­u­late mat­ter. Sim­i­lar cor­re­la­tion has been shown with asthma, COPD and pneu­mo­nia. Such is the level of air pol­lu­tion in In­dia that neonates de­velop bronchial prob­lems. The num­ber of lung cancer pa­tients is zoom­ing. The past 20 years be­longed to heart disease, the next 20 will see a lung disease epidemic.

Ef­fec­tively, there is no remedy. Air is a con­tin­u­ous flow, it goes across bound­aries. So when it is highly pol­luted out­side, don’t go out. Nor­mally, we breathe 12-14 times a minute. But when we do out­door ac­tiv­i­ties—run­ning, jog­ging, ex­er­cis­ing—we breathe about 45 times a minute. You will in­hale more tox­ins ev­ery minute. That is why we have been op­pos­ing marathons, which are sup­posed to be good for your health but ac­tu­ally kill by poisoning your body. Med­i­cally, it’s sui­cide. Masks do not help: those sold in phar­ma­cies can’t keep out par­tic­u­late mat­ter and the N95 or N99 masks are ef­fec­tive if worn tight across the nose. Even these can only pre­vent large par­ti­cles from get­ting into the lungs. Finer par­ti­cles like P2.5 or harm­ful sul­phates and ni­trates can pass right through.

In­door air pol­lu­tion is also a big is­sue in In­dia. Air pu­ri­fiers do no good, be­cause they are ef­fec­tive over lim­ited space. You can do yoga, but it only helps en­hance your lung ca­pac­ity, it can’t re­move the par­tic­u­late de­posits that line your lungs. The real remedy is tak­ing small in­di­vid­ual ef­forts to con­tain two things, dhul and dhuan (dust and smoke)—the two con­trib­u­tors to air pol­lu­tion—at home, in your neigh­bour­hood or out­side. You as a cit­i­zen need to take the ini­tia­tive, to curb pol­lu­tion, to im­prove the air you breath. That’s the only way.

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