Indian cities are faced with a grim reality. Our winters have become inextricably linked to a high degree of pollution. In the cold season, the northern Indian belt up to Bengal observes a meteorological phenomenon called temperature inversion – in which warm air is held above the cold air, trapping air pollution close to the ground. The dense presence of particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the environment brings with itself lasting repercussions to human health. Particles so fine can enter our bloodstream, and over time, leave a deposit on our lungs, increasing risks of respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Air pollution can affect our health in many other ways:
1. It aggravates respiratory infection and other illnesses
Our nose and the respiratory tract are the entry point of all the toxic air we breathe. Cold, cough and influenza-like symptoms are thus all too common during the pollution season. Needless to say, asthmatic patients and those suffering from recurrent respiratory illnesses suffer more than others. The WHO states that air pollution causes nearly 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year due to increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.
2. It can cause skin damage
Our skin is the most exposed organ of our body. Harsh environmental conditions and air pollution can affect it adversely. Another one of the harmful effects of air pollution is that these particles settle on our skin and clog our pores. This leads to rashes, irritation, acne, and other skin allergies. According to a medical paper published by the University of Athens, air pollution can cause more serious skin allergies like eczema, psoriasis and a long-standing exposure to polluted air can cause skin cancer. Air pollution can also expedite the process of skin ageing.
3. It reduces resistance to infections
According to a joint study conducted by the University of Stanford and the University of California, continued exposure to polluted air impedes the development of T-cells in our bodies. T-cells are an integral part of our immune system and are necessary to eliminate the antigens that invade our bodies. Prolonged exposure to dirty air reduces this ability of our immune system, making us prone to infections. In the era of Covid-19, this can prove to be fatal, as our body relies on the T-cells to fight any kind of infection.
It is no exaggeration to say that air pollution is deadly. And as much as we may want, most people can’t leave the city and live in rural India or coastal towns for better air quality. However, the good news is that there is much that can be done to minimise the effects of air pollution.
We can proactively make a few lifestyle changes like the following:
Never leave home without an anti-pollution mask
N95 masks are expensive for good reason – they are proven to block out PM 2.5, apart from PM 10. Although they can be close-fitting (to avoid leakage) and may feel constrictive in the beginning, you will eventually become habituated to wearing them everywhere. N95 masks can’t be washed clean like other masks, so make sure you replace them every year.
Avoid exercise in the morning
Since mornings are when air pollution is usually at its highest, it is not advisable to engage in high-intensity training outdoors. Older citizens and people with existing respiratory issues should especially take care not to run or walk outside for too long in the early mornings. Instead, try doing breathing exercises at home, and better still, in an air-purified space.
Create your clean air bubble at home
The combination of an air filter and indoor plants can help you breathe better and improve your lung capacity. An air purifier fitted with high-efficiency particulate air-filters will filter the air for you and indoor plants will take in the carbon dioxide and produce fresh oxygen supply. Growing a plant is not an easy task, however, considering the exponential increase of air pollution, it has become one of the most important ones at hand.
According to a study jointly conducted by an Indian environmental activist, Kamal Meattle and IIT Delhi, three basic indoor plants, namely: areca palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, and money plant can help you grow fresh air inside your own house. These are low-maintenance plants but some of these plants can be unsafe for babies and pets, so remember to choose them with caution.
Installation of a bio-wall can also help produce clean air for larger buildings. A bio-wall can be connected to the ventilation system nd that can purify your entire apartment building or your entire office. Besides, gardening can also prove to be therapeutic and can be done by anybody at home. It also contributes to your home’s aesthetic. Indoor gardening improves the oxygen flow of the house and this can relax your mind and increase your productivity. Remember to seal your windows and doors so that the polluted air stays out.
To sum it up:
To combat the harmful effects of air pollution, we need to have changes on a systemic level. But until then, we should get as much help as we can at an individual level. Let’s continue to make nature our best friend and create our green bubble at home.
Plants are inexpensive and occupy less space and give us the best gift – that of clean air. The ongoing pandemic has made us reflect on our health and immune system and has revealed the problems of an unhealthy lifestyle. Air pollution only worsens this crisis. So let’s take the matter into our own hands and give ourselves the gift of a beautiful indoor garden.