After two days of pollution levels being ‘severe’, Delhi’s air quality improved slightly to the ‘very poor’ category on Saturday, with the city recording an air quality index (AQI) of 381, according to the daily bulletin released by the Central Pollution Control Board.
However, even this is enough for a young, healthy adult to develop respiratory complications, health experts said.
Dr Sumit Ray, head of the department of critical care at Holy Family Hospital, said coughing, sneezing, irritation of the airways, skin diseases and respiratory distress are some of the immediate impacts of the ongoing spell of pollution over the Capital and the surrounding regions. However, he said, prolonged exposure to high levels of pollution is known to cause bronchospasms, where the muscles of the airways that connect the windpipe to the lungs tighten and cause the airways to eventually narrow.
“Even for a healthy person, the long-term impact of such high and prolonged pollution can be serious. We have seen that if a healthy person is not a smoker, they are usually unlikely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but now we are commonly seeing this among non-smokers, and that could be attributed to pollution,” said Ray.
Dr Bhagwan Mantri, consultant pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Moolchand Hospital, said Delhi residents experience unsafe levels of pollution all year round. In winter, the episodes become more severe, Mantri said, adding that such prolonged exposure to high pollution levels, with episodic peaks that go to dangerous levels, leads over time to the weakening of a healthy person’s respiratory system.
Health experts said the major pollution sources in the Capital primarily comprise of particulate matter, which can reach the bloodstream and lungs, causing serious health issues.
Dr Deepak Gupta, professor of neurosurgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), warned people who have recovered from Covid-19 to take extra care during times of high pollution levels.
“Not just relatively minor symptoms, such high pollution levels can trigger many more serious health complications, including lung cancer. Especially people who survived Covid-19 need to be careful,” Gupta said.
Dr Randeep Guleria, former AIIMS director and the head of the department of pulmonary medicine and sleep disorder, said pollution is a “silent killer”, and the impact of rising pollution in Delhi can be seen in the increasing number of patients at AIIMS with respiratory disorders. “Pollution causes more harm than even tobacco smoke. During peak pollution days, people must limit outdoor activities but also limit their exposure to high pollution areas. The burden of diseases caused by pollution is increasing,” Guleria said.