Air pollution: Know how it affects your health

Air pollution has become one of India’s most pressing problems in recent years. In a region like Delhi-NCR, the problem is even more severe. Hazardous air quality is taking a huge toll on the health of the citizens. High levels of pollutants in the air cause inflammation in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke or heart attack. Worsening air quality has led to Delhi-NCR getting descriptive titles like ‘gas chamber’ and ‘the world’s most polluted city.’


What is air pollution?


Air pollution is a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air (particulate matter) and various gases such as ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides (NO2 or NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide (CO). The emitted particles may vary in size, shape, surface area, and chemical composition. 


What causes air pollution?


The most common cause of air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels used in cars, trucks, airplanes, power plants, and household heating systems. The atmosphere is a delicate balance of elements and particles. By composition, Earth's atmosphere is composed of nitrogen gas (78%), oxygen gas (21%), and other trace gases (such as argon and carbon dioxide). Any imbalance, even in small quantities, can pose a serious health risk to living organisms, including humans and animals.


Health impacts of air pollution


High levels of air pollution can cause a variety of health issues among humans. Both short and long-term exposure to air pollutants can increase the chances of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. When inhaled, microscopic pollutants can penetrate deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, worsening chronic illnesses.


Fine particles (PM 2.5) can travel deep into the lungs and affect a person's lungs and heart. On the other hand, coarse particles (PM10) can irritate an individual's eyes, nose, and throat. Some common types of PM10 are dust from roads, farms, dry riverbeds, construction sites, and mines. Particle pollution has also been linked to:


  • Dry or irritated eyes, nose, throat, and skin
  • Lung and throat irritation
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Lung cancer
  • Breathing and lung conditions, such as:
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)


Heart conditions, such as: 


  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Hypertension
  • Heart attack


If you have spent only minutes in the polluted air, you may feel better after leaving the affected area. However, spending too much time in the affected areas can make it more noticeable. The problem may become more frequent and severe for people with lung and heart disease. 


Who is most at risk for air pollution health effects?


People most at risk of health complications related to air pollution include:


  • Adults over 65
  • Infants and young children
  • People who work or exercise outdoors
  • People with existing heart conditions
  • People who live near industries or busy roadways
  • People with a cardiovascular disease
  • People who smoke or are exposed to second-hand smoke
  • People having existing breathing or lung problems and illnesses


What can you do if you are suffering from health problems related to air quality?


  • Know when you get any symptoms and when they go away
  • Go for a routine health checkup
  • Discuss your concerns with your doctor



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