How Air Pollution Leads To Asthma

It’s time to put on your anti-pollution masks if you reside in Delhi, Patna, Gwalior or Raipur.

It’s time to put on your anti-pollution masks if you reside in Delhi, Patna, Gwalior or Raipur.


These cities happen to be the most polluted cities in India with the highest amounts of tiny suspended particles (PM2.5). These particles penetrate deep into the airways and lungs and can cause asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions. Air pollution poses a major threat to global health today and there is no doubt about this. 


According to the report released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), 30 per cent premature deaths in the country are caused due to air pollution. Delhi, the capital of India has been in the news on and off due to its severe air pollution, leading to poor air quality in and around the city. Other metro cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Chennai are not spared either. 


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines air pollution as “any visible or invisible particle or gas found in the air that is not part of the natural composition of air.” India is a developing country and with a number of infrastructural developments and power generation activities being carried out simultaneously, there’s absolutely no doubt why 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to the World Health Organisation’s ambient air pollution database. 


Here’s how air pollution and asthma are related - 


Air pollution and Asthma


While there is no concrete evidence that air pollution is one of the causes of asthma, air pollution is certainly one of the leading triggers of asthma that can further lead to an attack. In 2015, according to a poll conducted by Curofy, 82% of the health experts agreed that there is a direct relation between asthma and environmental pollution. In the metro and other emerging cities, air pollution is one of the main factors that worsen the symptoms of asthma, along with other respiratory conditions, causing increased bouts of breathing problems and lung infections. 


An asthmatic's airways are hypersensitive. Elements in the polluted air can cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to coughing, wheezing, and even shortness of breath. Smog, along with other air pollutants can also lead to irritation in the eyes, the throat and even in the lungs. The situation becomes extremely critical for asthmatics as the irritants and pollutants in the smog can worsen asthma symptoms such as difficulty in breathing. 


Any irritating stimulant present in the polluted air might not affect a non-asthmatic person, however, the symptoms of wheezing are more likely to be felt by an asthmatic.  


Let’s take the example of Chennai, where the number of asthma cases has been doubled in the past 5 years. Dr. Balachander in conversation with The Hindu mentions “The incidence is around 15%. I see 15 to 25 new cases of childhood asthma every month. Outdoor pollution is the main cause. When children travel to school in the morning, they have to go through the traffic on the road. They are exposed to dense smoke and pollution. There are other factors too such as dust mites and seasonal viral infections”. Air pollution - including traffic fumes, smoke as well as dust particles is an asthma trigger that’s hard to avoid. This is why it is so important to manage your asthma well, especially if the air around you is polluted. 


How to Avoid an Asthma Attack due to Air Pollution


Preventing an asthma attack especially during the days when the air pollution rate is higher than usual is extremely critical. To avoid asthma attacks, you could follow the following measures: 


  • Consulting a doctor regularly about your concerns and getting a personalised asthma plan is always recommended.
  • Consult your doctor to chalk out a treatment protocol that is tailored to your workplace, lifestyle and environment. This is crucial as it can further help prevent asthma due to air pollution. 
  • Have a fair idea about the pollution level and the trends. Refer to local news channels or sources that can warn you when air pollution is high. 
  • Pollution levels are higher during the day or during rush hours. It’s a great idea to start your day ahead of others.
  • Opt for alternative routes where the possibility of high traffic is minimal. Under construction roads and sites should also be avoided. 
  • If you suffer from asthma, keeping your inhaler handy is always a good idea. You could also use safety masks, especially while travelling.
  • Ensure you have an emergency plan so you know what to do if you start to experience asthma symptoms. Share it with your family, friends, and colleagues. 





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