As Indian metros gasp for breath, you may consider giving in to cosmetic solutions such as going to oxygen bars for a puff of fresh air and buying oxygen sprays. In times of crises like the current one, all kinds of products inevitably flood the market. But instead of panicking and wasting your money on a fad, you must look for genuine products that might help you survive the severe air pollution that has engulfed Indian metros, including Delhi-NCR.

Spending to fight the ill effects of air pollution in the current environment has become more of a necessity and investment, and you can avoid it only at the risk of your health. Read on to find out what you need to keep in mind when buying your armour against pollution and how much it will cost.

There’s more damage than evident

According to data from the World Health Organisation, the combined effects of outdoor and household air pollution cause about 7 million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

In all this, children are more vulnerable. Trupti Bhandari, 47, a Delhi-based mother of two who heads the global nutrition business for a multinational company, realizes this and sends out her children in masks. “My younger child is only eight, and when I send her to school, I do so after putting a pollution mask on her," she said.

According to Dr Shamim Akhtar, senior pulmonologist and head of respiratory medicine in Delhi’s St. Stephen’s Hospital, children are at a much greater risk in such conditions as their respiratory systems are still developing. The biggest threat is particulate matter in the air. “PM 2.5 refers to particulate matter in the air that are 2.5 micrometers in size. These can enter your airways and reach your lungs, where they cause inflammatory reactions, from coughs to various types of bronchitis," he said. Particulate matter as well as harmful gases present in smog can travel to other vital organs too, causing other complications, said Akhtar. “Various studies have shown that it can cause cardiovascular problems, heart attacks and even increase the risk of lung cancer," he added.

The clean air pocket pinch
The clean air pocket pinch

While the air outside can be toxic, what you are breathing indoors is not better either. “The quality of indoor air can actually be poorer than outdoor air as the air that comes into your home gets stagnated. There can be other particles present, like cooking emissions, bacteria, dust mites and allergens," said Akhtar.

The cost of breathing easy at home

How to choose: Air purifiers can help you lessen the pollution level inside your home, but choosing the right one is crucial. “Purifiers have an internal fan, which sucks in the air and cycles it so that the pollutants are trapped in the internal filter, and then it releases purified air. It must have a pre-filter, which catches the larger particles, increasing the life of the filter," said Akhtar. The filters available include the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, ULPA (ultra-low penetration air) filter, activated carbon filter and ultraviolet filter. “A HEPA filter is a must for any purifier. An activated carbon filter increases the efficiency," said Akhtar.

Consider other specifications too. For instance, the CADR (clean air delivery rate) will tell you how large an area the purifier can cover. While smaller purifiers, which are also more affordable because of the size, can be sufficient for an average sized bedroom, which is usually around 150 sq.ft, they would fall short for larger spaces. For a living-cum-dining area or a large bedroom, you would have to invest in a purifier with a CADR which covers the area, or two purifiers with lower capacity for complete coverage.

The cost: The more hi-tech the filter, the higher the price tag is likely to be. While the most basic air purifiers available right now are priced at 7,000-15,000, for the more advanced models, the prices can be 30,000-50,000. The cost is not just a one-time outflow. The filters need changing every few months. If the conditions are especially bad, as is the case in Delhi, they might need to be changed every three months. Replacing the filter can cost between 1,000 and 3,000, depending on the brand and model of your purifier.

Keep in mind that an air purifier needs to be switched on continuously for it to be effective. Also, you will need separate purifiers for different rooms in your home.

So if you have a three-bedroom home, buying a purifier for each bedroom, one for the kitchen and one or two for your living room can add up to a large outgo. Even if you buy the lowest priced units in the market, you would end up spending upwards of 40,000.

Add to that, the electricity cost, which is not very high, thankfully. Air purifiers are typically between 30 and 50 watts. If you run a 50 watt air purifier for 12 hours each day at 6 per unit, you will spend an additional amount of 110 per month on electricity.

Keep in mind: Don’t forget to check how efficient customer services of the company are. Bhandari recounts her struggle with the purifier she bought a year ago; it didn’t work when she changed the filters next year. Thankfully, she had another purifier as back-up, until a customer service representative came to fix the first.

The cost of breathing easy outside

How to choose: If you spend a good deal of time outside, you will also need to stock up on pollution masks. But choose carefully. The simple double-layered masks available in the market are far from adequate, said Akhtar. “They have a cloth layer on one side and a mesh or filter on the other. While these can reduce the amount of smoke you inhale, they are not designed to filter out PM 2.5 particles. They can give you perhaps 15-20% protection," he added.

The most popular pollution mask is the N95. Its two varieties—with or without air valve—offer the same amount of protection. The mask filters out most particulate matter, including PM 2.5. The air valve variant ensures that you don’t feel suffocated or uncomfortable while wearing a tightly fitted mask for an extended period of time. There are also the N99 and N100 masks, the difference between the N95, N99 and N100 masks being the efficiency of the filters they use. The N95 filters 95% of particulates in the air and N99 and N100 filter 99%.

“When buying a mask, check whether it is certified by the US FDA or an equivalent international authority, because India doesn’t have any such standard of certification," said Akhtar.

The cost: The prices of two-layer masks can be as low as 50, whereas disposable N95 masks are priced between 150 and 300. Reusable masks come with higher price tags of 500 to 3,000, or more.

Keep in mind: When buying a pollution mask, ensure that it fits well. If you aren’t comfortable wearing it, you will not be able to keep it on for an extended period of time. If the mask is loose and there are gaps between it and your face, it won’t restrict unfiltered air from entering your system.

Affordable Natural armour

Aside from investing in purifiers and masks to protect yourself, there are also some affordable natural remedial measures you can take against pollution.

To start with, hydrate yourself properly and make suitable additions to your diet. “Water is a neutralizing medium, and can help neutralize the effect of pollutants. Also, consume foods that contain a large amount of antioxidants like citrus fruits. These won’t reduce the impact of the pollutants directly, but can mitigate the inflammation inside your body," said Akhtar. He also advises against undertaking heavy-duty exercises in polluted conditions because exertion results in inhalation of a larger volume of air and ingestion of a larger amount of particulate matter.

Keeping certain plants at home may also help mitigate pollution levels. Plants on this list include areca palm, peace lily and snake plant. According to Amit Tripathi, co-founder, Bring My Flowers, a flower delivery service, the demand for such plants has shot up since the pollution problem in Delhi has worsened. “If we sell six or seven of them in a month on average, since the pollution levels have spiked, we have been selling upwards of 70 in a month," he said.

However, according to some studies, plants might not actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home. Akhtar agrees. “Plants can help the air quality, but they are not nearly effective enough and can’t be used as an alternative to air purifiers," he said.

While state and central governments try to devise ways to counter the issue and check it at the source, we are left to battle it out both indoors and outdoors. Both air purifiers and masks can be expensive, and buying them for your entire household in one go can dent your finances. Plan ahead and stagger the expense by either buying the machines on EMI or purchasing them one at a time, according to priority; say, first for your child’s bedroom, then for yours, and so on. Despite the pocket pinch, it makes sense to invest in preventive measures to avoid long-term, healthcare-related expenses.

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