Air pollution damage to lungs is irreversible

Kamal Narayan Omer

Every year the third Wednesday of November is observed as COPD Day, the day strives to raise awareness on the condition, risk factors and also on the importance of a pollution free environment for healthy living. The COPD theme this year rightly proclaims "Healthy Lungs -Never More Important" as the Covid 19 infection has not only created havoc on environment and human life but also compromised our lung health hence the time to fix them is most certainly now before it is too late.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is broad term for a range of progressive lung diseases. Any form of lung damage can result in a multitude of problems including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The bad news is that lung deterioration is a condition that is non-reversible and also there is no treatment option available. Lifestyle changes and medical intervention can simply help the patient to avoid flare ups and improve their quality of life.

Children especially premature kids, and those with weak immune system and asthma are more prone to develop COPD at a later stage in life. According to WHO, every day almost 93% of the world's children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. WHO estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. The Delhi government's recent order on the closure of primary schools in Delhi owing to the dangerous level that the AQI has dipped to, has brought the debate back to the environmental concern of cleaner and safer air and finding sustainable solutions to the pollution problem. Instead of opting for short -term knee jerk solutions it is imperative that we ensure long term sustainable solutions to the ever - growing problem of pollution.

The adverse health impact of air pollution is an immediate public health concern in the country and the government should look for addressing the concern in the most effective manner. In India industrial emission is majorly responsible for air pollution, followed by combustion by vehicles and then household emissions and burning of crop waste in rural areas. With Indian metros topping the list of most polluted cities in the world, the problem can no longer be overlooked. The government has already taken noteworthy steps when it comes to environmental degradation - from promoting cleanliness drives of rivers to banning the usage of plastic, the government has time and again shown its commitment towards environmental causes. However, the issue of air pollution has not been redressed impactfully and the resultant damage is a threat to our lungs - an organ that processes life with every breath that we inhale. Hence healthy lungs are a non-negotiable aspect of a healthy body and a non-toxic and safe air plays a key role in ensuring strong and healthy lungs.

Policy reforms should be initiated to ensure that environmental concerns are prioritized over financial and commercial gains. If the government is able to look for sustainable options in a well- planned and co-ordinated manner, the future would be able to take care of economic progress along with mitigating harmful pollution caused by industrialization. Also, the civil society should play a pro- active role in creating awareness on the negative impact of pollution on human health and also on other causes of COPD. Apart from air pollution smoking tobacco is the major cause of COPD and also results in levelling serious harm to human body especially to the lungs. Long term exposure to air pollution has countless adverse effects on human health, patients with chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of air pollutants. Air pollution can also aggravate and trigger asthma thereby increasing respiratory disorders because of decreased lung health. Many researches indicate that women in developing countries are more prone to COPD because of household cooking smoke hence it is important that they keep their lung health good by switching to healthier fuel and prioritizing their health over family needs. It is also important that we break marketing myths related to the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping. People usually fall for such gimmicks and jeopardize their health just to follow the trend and appear stylish and fashionable.

It is quite evident that COPD, air pollution and lung health are inevitably linked to each other and hence a comprehensive approach that involves all relevant stakeholders should be initiated. The government needs to make sure that in policy matters on health and environment they seek the participation of health professionals, and engage in inter-sectoral policy making for better outcomes. The government also needs to popularise on the use of cleaner and greener sources of energy instead of using fossil fuels. Also, better waste management techniques in metros as well as for crop waste in rural areas need to be initiated. In order to minimize the risk of air pollution on kids, schools and playgrounds should be located away from busy roads, factories and power plants. Policy interventions in this regard can pave the way for to better tackle the problem of air pollution and a holistic approach can provide better results.

But the onus of this change should not be the responsibility of the government alone a preventive lifestyle is a must to keep away from lung disorders. The role of lifestyle modifications at the individual level can successfully combat air pollution and the resulting disorders including COPD. From limiting the use of fossil fuels by opting for greener vehicles to quitting smoking, small lifestyle modifications can go a long way in ensuring healthier and happier lungs. Indulging in breathing exercises as well as including some sort of physical activity in your daily routine can add vitality and strength not only to your lungs but to your mental-wellbeing also. It has been scientifically proven that people who have anxiety disorders or stress are more prone to trigger asthma and COPD. So emotional wellbeing is equally important when it comes to managing COPD, along with a healthy diet and non-sedentary lifestyle. Small steps in the right direction can play a major role in encouraging lung health and managing air pollution; car-pooling, using mosquito nets instead of dangerous repellents, keeping indoor plants and most importantly quitting any form of smoking, which is harmful for your family as well as the environment. In keeping with the WHO's vision of "a world in which all people breathe freely," lets strive leaving a safer and healthier planet for our future generations.

(Kamal Narayan Omer is the CEO of IHW Council)