With every passing year, pollution levels post-Diwali go a notch higher, leading to increasing number of respiratory illnesses
Diwali is a trying time for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases with the air quality deteriorating with each passing year. An analysis of levels of various pollutants on Diwali since 2010 reveals a disturbing trend wherein the level of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide and levels of particulate matter, is one the rise. In the last few years, there has been a 40 per cent increase in cases of wheezing, respiratory illness, exacerbation of bronchial asthma and bronchitis in patients of all ages and genders. Smoke from the crackers is found to have harmful gases which linger in the air for weeks together leading to severe health issues.
Diwali and winter allow pollutants to remain in the air - Dr Ramana
The bursting of crackers releases harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, chromium, cadmium, mercury, lead, magnesium, zinc and copper in the air. These toxic fumes lead to severe chest diseases. The increasing levels of sulphur dioxide in the air irritates the respiratory tracts. Heavy metals like potassium chlorate, sulphur, arsenic sulphate, aluminum and copper are found abundantly in the air after Diwali. These emissions enter the blood stream through breathing and can lead to thrombosis.
Exposing fragile people like senior citizens, pregnant women and chronic patients to crackers exposes them to respiratory illness like bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis and COPD.
Dr Ramana Prasad V. Velamuru, consultant pulmonologist and respiratory intensivist and sleep specialist said, “Acute asthma attacks are largely seen in patients post Diwali. Diwali and onset of winter are at the same time in India. The harmful gases released due to fireworks gets mixed with the fog in the environment resulting in smog which is very harmful. Apart from this it is also found to cause other infections like conjunctivitis and interstitial lung disease. For this reason, it is important to not expose oneself for too long to bursting of firecrackers.”
A simple cough can also get worse - Dr Sai Praveen Haranath
Compared to adults, children have poor defences against particulate material and gaseous air pollutants. As children are physically more active and outdoors most of the time they tend to inhale more pollutants than adults. For those suffering from various respiratory diseases, even a simple cough can get worse. Dr Sai Praveen Haranath, senior consultant pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Apollo Hospitals said, “Due to several chemicals like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, toluene and perchlorate, the body suffers from simple coughs which later can escalate to wheezing and other possible conditions of asthma. “There are children who come to the hospital with severe bronchitis and lung infections. There is also an increase in phlegm in some cases which requires proper treatment.” There is data suggesting that exposure to fireworks can make asthma worse. The metal particles in smoke from fireworks pose a health risk to asthmatics. For this reason they are advised to avoid exposure to fireworks.
Look for safe means to celebrate - Dr K. Sailaja
The depletion of earth’s atmosphere has been recognised as a threat to human health as well as to the earth’s ecosystems. Air pollution is found to cause not only respiratory illness but is also one of the factors for cardiovascular diseases. Dr K. Sailaja, senior pulmonologist at Maxcure Hospitals said, “Since 2010, there have been records showing that urban cities have dangerously high levels of dust, fumes, smoke and other gases after Diwali. This increased level is mainly due to inflammable substances and artificial colours used for making the crackers. The permissible limit is 60 micro gram per cubic meter (MPCM) of suspended particulate matter but it is found that it goes three times more than the permissible limits. “There is a strong need to look for environmentally friendly methods to celebrate Diwali.”
W A T C H O U T
- The pollutants released during the bursting of firecrackers last for not several hours but for several days in the air. Weather conditions like wind speed, humidity has an effect on its presence in the atmosphere.
- Small particulate matter are lighter and they stay in the air longer and travel farther. PM 10 (big) particles can stay in the air for hours while PM 2.5 can stay in the air for weeks.
- PM 10 can travel as little as hundred yards or as much as 48 km while PM 2.5 can go hundreds of km depending on the speed of the wind.
- Animals suffer the most, from both air and noise pollution.
- Other problems are hearing loss, increase in blood pressure and also sleep disturbances.
Tips to protect yourself from smoke:
- Install air filters at home to protect from smoke.
- While bursting crackers cover the nose with a thick cloth.
- Do not stand close to crackers as the smoke affects directly.
- Pollutants cause skin allergies, hence, opt for full clothing; also, cotton clothes are better.