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Want to breathe easy? Expert tips to protect yourself from toxic air

With Delhi-NCR air quality at a hazardous level, Dr. Manav Manchanda, a respiratory medicine specialist and an alumnus of Apeejay Faridabad, highlights preventive measures to stay safe and healthy.



Dr. Manav Manchanda

With several areas in the ‘severe’ category, air pollution in Delhi-NCR has worsened again. As a result, all schools, colleges and educational institutions have been instructed to remain shut until further notice. Exposure to toxic pollutants can increase the risk of lung diseases, heart diseases, irritation in eyes, nose and throat, and even cancer. Dr. Manav Manchanda, Director and HOD, Department of Respiratory, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad, guides you on how to safeguard yourself.

How can air pollution affect your health?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the health effects of air pollution are pretty serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.  Numerous scientific studies have shown a significant association between exposure to particle pollution and health risks, including premature death. Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the greatest health risk. “PM 2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) can penetrate deeply into the lungs, corrode the alveolar wall (the site of gas exchange) and subsequently impair lung function. It can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath. It could also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease,” says Dr. Manav.  He adds that unborn babies, new-borns and young children are most vulnerable to air pollution. Exposure to air pollution at a young age can hinder lung growth and inhibit brain development and increase other respiratory complications.

Don’t step out unnecessarily, use N95 mask  

Dr. Manav advises avoiding going out at a time when the air quality is the worst and reiterates that N95 masks are better than cloth masks to combat pollution and COVID.  “If you want protection from PM 2.5 and airborne infections, N95 masks are the best option. It’s also critical to wear a mask that fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin.”

Limit outdoor exercise

Amid the increasing air pollution, going out for a run or for cycling can do more harm than good. Dr. Manav says when you do a rigorous workout, you take deeper breaths which increases exposure to air pollution. You’re also more likely to breathe through your mouth during exercise and this can lead to more pollutants entering your respiratory system. However, this doesn’t mean you stop exercising. “There are so many indoor exercises you can do even if you don’t have much equipment or space. Yoga is also a great option.”

Increase protein intake

Having a balanced diet is vital to build resistance against the effects of air pollution and maintain good lung health. Says Dr. Manav: “For lung patients we advise a protein-rich diet. Indians eat too much carbohydrates and the protein intake is not given importance. One can have eggs, soybeans, dals, etc. Foods rich in Vitamin C (citrus fruits), Vitamin E (sunflower, soybean oil, Almonds, Peanuts) and Omega -3 Fats (flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts) must also be consumed.

Asthma patient must exercise strict precautions

Apart from taking medications, asthmatic patients must stay indoors on days when their area’s outdoor air quality is poor. Dr. Manav also says that asthma patients must keep a quick-relief inhaler handy and consult a doctor if the discomfort persists.

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]