Delhiites Are Living With Blackened Lungs: AIIMS Director
Cases of respiratory distress have risen by 20 percent in the last few days with almost all hospitals reporting similar rise in number of patients, says the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director. Five days post Diwali, air quality in the NCR ranged between 600 to 800 PM 2.5 levels.
AIIMS Director and renowned pulmonologist Dr Randeep Guleria spoke with The Quint’s Anthony Rozario about the public health emergency brought on by severe air pollution in Delhi NCR.
The toxic gas chamber that is Delhi has led to increasing instances of non-smokers developing lung cancer and Delhiites living with compromised lungs.
Dr Guleria, what does the health emergency mean for the people of Delhi-NCR?
Those who are in the high risk category, especially children, adults and people with respiratory or cardiac problems and pregnant women will have to be extra careful. But normal people can also develop some breathing difficulty, chest tightness, cough. When they also breathe high levels of polluted air, their airways will react and cause some degree of inflammation which leads to breathing difficulty and cough.
Has AIIMS witnessed an increase in the number of patients coming in since Diwali?
If we look at respiratory or cardiac problems, we see that every year when pollution levels increase, it brings about an increase of 20% in patients with respiratory and cardiac problems. Also there is increase in number of people coming to emergency with worsening of respiratory and cardiac status. This is a perpetual problem we see every year, it usually occurs a few days after Diwali and we prepare patients, some increase their medications or they visit their relatives away from Delhi.
What is the chemical composition of pollutants in the air?
There are lots of studies being done to look at what constitutes PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter in the air), how many organic and inorganic substances are there, and metals. The most dangerous is PM 2.5 because it reaches the lungs. PM10 is less dangerous because it stays in the upper airways and doesn’t reach the lungs. We are now finding ultra fine particles which are even smaller than PM 2.5 which can go deep into the lungs. Not only the heart and the lungs, the entire body can get affected because these fine particles can through the lungs and skin and get into circulation, reaching various organs including the brain.
What advice would you give to Delhiites gasping to breathe?
When air quality is bad, avoid going out. If you have to go out, go during the day when air quality is better. Take good amounts of fluids.
There is a lot of blackening in the lungs of people who stay in Delhi because they inhale a lot of pollutants that get deposited. So, when you look at the lungs during surgery or later on as part of an autopsy, you can see the difference the lungs of people who come from areas where pollutions are not high as compared to people living in Delhi or the Indo-Gangetic plains. This is because of a lot of accumulation of pollutants in the lungs.
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