Air pollution is a silent killer. Sometimes you can probably see it (the smog and something equally less appealing), but most times you cannot. The tiny particulates, the unseen smoke, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dangerous gases, fumes and more are what we breathe in, and we probably just don’t realize it. The air quality in most Indian cities is hazardous, or close to it. The situation becomes worse in the winters when the cooler temperatures keep these pollutants trapped closer to the ground, at around the height the average human breathes. While there isn’t much we can do about the outdoor air, wear the anti-pollution masks before you step out and keep this on while you are outside. And those of us who have the luxury (or is it really luxury) of being indoors can actually use air purifiers to clean the air and breathe something that is close to healthy.
A mask does the job of trapping the pollutants from the air you are about to breathe before it enters into your body. This filtration happens just before the air enters the human nose. It is all about running the dirty air through layers of filters to clean up the dirt. An indoor air purifier sucks in the air present in the room and then runs it through multiple layers of filters to capture the impurities and particulate matter, which would include pollutants, allergens and other viruses. Depending on how fine the sieves in the filters are, a majority of air-purifier filters can catch airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns—microns being the standard unit for measuring air particles. Some purifiers can also capture 0.1 micron particles. Each micron is 1/25,400 of an inch, just for perspective. Some of these particulate can even enter the blood stream. Good luck treating those. Whichever way you look at it, running the otherwise possibly impure indoor air through a filter is any day better than not. At least for the hours you are in home or in office, breathe clean air.
Multiple research and a lot of data is consistently suggesting that pollution is causing us more harm than we may have imagined. Or are willing to accept.
“Research suggests that long-term exposure to air pollution can contribute to the development of some lung conditions. There’s good evidence that outdoor air pollution contributes to lung cancer, and it’s possible that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to the development of asthma,” says the British Lung Foundation.
If children are exposed to polluted air for prolonged periods of time, it can impact their lung development as well. But it is pretty much anyone and everyone irrespective of the age group or gender, who is exposed to air pollution is at a risk of a variety of minor and severe health conditions. “Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs,” says the American Lung Association.
The thing is, lungs can recover and do course correction themselves. It is true for those who smoke as well. Reduced inflammation in the airways, lesser carbon monoxide content in the blood and the lungs’ cilia becomes active again in expunging the gunk in the lungs. But for that, one needs to get away from the smoke and the polluted air.
In October this year, researchers at the University of Warwick have found that human memory is significantly worse in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and air particulates (PM10). With a sample size of 34,000 people, the researchers deciphered that the human brain ages faster (by as much as 10 years) in people who are breathing in polluted air regularly.
There is even more risk for pregnant women. According to a research by Nature Sustainability, the probability of missed miscarriages increases with consumption of higher concentration of air pollutants. For the purpose of this research four main ingredients of air pollution were taken into consideration—the fine particulate matter 2.5 (also known as PM 2.5), sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. This isn’t the first study that raises a flag about the risks of air pollution for pregnancies. In February this year, a research which involved researchers from the University of Utah, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Michigan’s Hurley Medical Center and the Oregon Health and Science University suggested that an increase of 20 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide content per cubic meter lead to a 16% rise in the risk of miscarriage.
In August 2017, a study by the American Heart Association suggested that air pollution is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. Fine particulate matter exposure impacted metabolism of glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and lipids. These changes, along with the significantly higher blood pressure, insulin resistance and biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress found among people exposed to higher levels, could be partly responsible for the adverse cardiovascular effects caused by air pollution exposure, the researchers said. "Levels of stress hormones, systolic blood pressure and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation were significantly lower when using real air purifiers," says researcher Haidong Kan, in the study. There, if you needed any more proof about the actual benefits of air purifiers in your home, this should help with that.
As far back as in February 2016, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that more than 50% of the deaths due to pneumonia among children under the age of 5 are caused by particulate matter inhaled from household air pollution. And for as many as 3.8 million premature deaths annually, the reason are non-communicable diseases such as strokes, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer among them, and these are attributable to the exposure to air pollution inside homes.