Categories: Pulmonology

Breathe easy this Diwali

Diwali is arguably India’s biggest festival which is synonymous with lights, lamps, colors and of course, firecrackers. However, this is also the time when air quality deteriorates drastically. The air is chocked with various forms of pollutants with the problem compounded by pollution caused by the increased movement of vehicles.

As per data from local hospitals of Ahmedabad, patients visiting with complaints of severe respiratory disorders during Diwali festival have been increasing for the last five years. These include asthma, RADS, and exacerbations of chronic lung disorders, all associated with breathing in polluted and toxic air. The problem of pollution is because of the effects of fireworks in Diwali. It is more severe in cities as the growing number of vehicles adds to the problem. Air quality takes a deep plunge as the problem gets compounded. Depending on the size of these particles, they cause a variety of illnesses ranging from mild temporary irritation to serious chronic diseases such as cancer.

Particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers (PM 10) and less are considered the most harmful as they are small enough to evade the body’s filters and pass through the entire respiratory system. Travelling from the upper respiratory tract which consists of the nose, pharynx and larynx, the smaller particles end up accumulating in the lower respiratory tract (bronchioles, alveolar ducts, and alveolar sacs) where gas exchanges occur. These are eventually removed by the macrophages of the immune system.

When there is an increased number of particulate matter in the air along with gases, the chances of COPD exacerbations increase. Certain groups of people are particularly susceptible, such as:

Children – Children spend a lot of time playing outdoors and this is the reason why they run a high risk of getting affected by smog. Regular exposure to air pollution (smog) can cause asthma and even other harmful respiratory ailments.

People who do outdoor activities – Anyone who works outdoor is more susceptible to air pollution. Regular exposure and can deteriorate their health causing several respiratory diseases.

People with Asthma & Respiratory disease – People with asthma or chronic respiratory diseases are at a high risk of health hazards caused by smog. They will experience the adverse effects of air pollution much sooner compared to others. Continuous exposure to smog can aggravate lung diseases, heart disease, and stroke.

Elderly People – Senior citizens have a weak immune system. Owing to this condition, elderly people are at increased risk of getting affected by air pollution, which can cause cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks, asthma attacks and many more.

Dry hacking coughs, shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, nasal complaint along with sneezing are some of the common complaints of patients during this time. Air pollution not only affects your lungs but other organs.. Thus, it is important to know the health hazards during Diwali time and take precautions accordingly.

  1. Upper Respiratory Tract Infection: The Post-Diwali period usually witnesses a surge in the number of people with complaints of irritation in the eyes and throat, dry cough and fever. While last year’s smog lingered in the atmosphere, many people who otherwise remain healthy, also experienced irritation in eyes and chest and a general feeling of suffocation.
  2. Bronchitis: The deadly chemicals used in crackers release fumes and gases that can lead to the inflammation of the bronchial tubes leading to acute attacks.
  3. Asthma: The condition of asthma patients usually exacerbates during this period because of the toxic fumes in the air.
  4. COPD: The risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) increases during festivals like Diwali when the level of suspended particulate matter becomes high in the air. It is characterized by prolonged cough with excess sputum.

Persons suffering from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments should start taking precautions several days before the festive season. Also, it is advisable for affected populations to avoid outdoor physical activities and wait until the levels of fine particles decrease. People suffering from Asthma, if it cannot be avoided should use a N95 face mask, which filters out at least 95% of airborne particles. A normal surgical mask is of no use as pollutants can pass through it. It is important to keep inhalers handy. If one experiences breathlessness then it is advisable to move away from smoggy surroundings and sit in a room with the doors and windows shut and the air-conditioning on. Patients are supposed to continue their treatment for chronic lung disease regularly and consult pulmonologist at regular intervals. It is important to keep an inhaler or nebulizer at hand to dilate your airways. Rush to a hospital if you don’t feel better after inhalation.

Dr. Shachi Dave, Pulmonology, Narayana Multispeciality Ahmedabad

Narayana Health

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