Dementia, heart attack, low sperm count: What air pollution does to your body

  • A simple itchy eye due to polluted air, a sudden sniff of the smog could go on to silently kill you as a breathing person often do not realise what they are inhaling.

Livemint
First Published2 Nov 2022
While governments fight to reduce air pollution at various cities across the world, India's capital Delhi has been infamous for severe air pollution, especially during winter
While governments fight to reduce air pollution at various cities across the world, India’s capital Delhi has been infamous for severe air pollution, especially during winter(PTI)

Farm fires, stubble burning, firecrackers are contributions to year long air pollutants that has caused severe respiratory illness among many. However, the pollution in the air is not only responsible for your respiratory ailments, it can also slowly albeit silently kill you. 

While governments fight to reduce air pollution at various cities across the world, India's capital Delhi has been infamous for severe air pollution, especially during winter. In 2022, despite strict measures imposed by the Delhi government, that includes ban on construction work, firecracker usage, Delhi and the surrounding areas have reported ‘severe’ in the Air Quality Index (AQI). 

Here is an understanding of how fatal air pollution can be

Ailments due to air pollution

Beyond respiratory illness that includes pneumonia, chest infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), air pollution had now began to affect individuals far beyond. Pregnant women are at risk, heart attacks have increased in younger generation and many more that far surpass lung disease due to air pollution. 

A simple itchy eye due to polluted air, a sudden sniff of the smog could go on to silently kill you as a breathing person often do not realise what they are inhaling. 

Heart attack- There has been a significant surge in cases of heart attacks in the recent past.  Several studies and experts have linked this to increase in air pollution. Researchers have said that air pollution potentially can cause blockage in arteries and veins. This in turn will result in reduced blood flow further leading to hypertension. Intake of too many pollutants can also cause blood clots.

Dementia- A research published in the journal of neurology has found that the risk of dementia increases by 3% for every one microgram per cubic metre (ug/m3) increase of fine particulate matter. Particulate matter includes dust, dirt, smoke, or soot, which are large enough to see, however, are less than 2.5 micrometres that are the biggest threat.

Pregnancy- Scientists have found that air pollution has possibly affected a male child’s future sperm count. The research has showed that soot can reach the foetus as early as the first trimester of pregnancy and get into the foetus’ vulnerable developing organs, including its liver, lungs, and brain. 

Shorter life expectancy- It is no secret that air pollution has been responsible for shortening life expectancy in national capital Delhi. A study by University of Chicago has shown that the life expectancy in the city has reduced by almost 10 years due to air pollution. Research shows that nearly 3 million premature deaths occur every year globally due to air pollution. 

This may be result of exacerbations of lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Experts have stated that air pollution can lead to lung cancer. 

One should also be wary of indoor air pollution which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

Understanding the major pollutants

-PM2.5 are fine particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter and can travel deep into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs and entering the bloodstream.

-Stubble burning is one of the primary reason for air pollution wherein smoke from burning stubble makes up for the most of the pollutants. This takes place during winters in the northern part of India. During winters farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue before cultivating wheat and vegetables.

-Apart from that vehicular pollution is also a large contributor to air pollution. Toxic smoke from unkempt vehicles have resulted in large scale air pollution over the years.

The report published by IQ Air’s World Air Quality Report shows that of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia in 2021, 12 were in India. Delhi saw a 14.6% increase in PM2.5 concentration in 2021.

The air quality is monitored on a daily basis in order for governments to take action. Air Quality Index from 0 to 100 is considered as good, while from 100 to 200 it is moderate, from 200 to 300 it is poor, and from 300 to 400 it is said to be very poor and from 400 too 500 or above it is considered as severe.

It is impertinent that the AQI remains below 100 for a higher life expectancy. The pollution in most Indian cities has rendered the air unbreathable. It has gone way beyond worsening asthma and reducing lung capacity.

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