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Your tricky pollution questions – answered

We asked doctors and experts to weigh in on your questions regarding pollution

Stay indoors, avoid high AQI zones, drink water to flush out the toxins, eat a healthy antioxidant-rich diet (with lots of veggies and omega-3s from fish). We know the basics — now for the niggling doubts. We asked doctors and experts to weigh in on them.

I’m a fitness freak, with no major illnesses. Can’t I do my regular walk for just 30 minutes a day?

Depends on where you live and what’s happening outdoors. If you’re in a colony, consider installing a pollution meter (about ₹3,000; lasts upto a year), so you know what times of the day it’s okay to step out. Generally, when the sun’s up is best. Wear a mask when you do step out, whether it’s to buy veggies or going for a walk. A cautionary note: if you feel even the slightest discomfort (an itchy throat, irritation in the eyes), go back indoors.

If I have an air purifier, am I at a greater risk for a heart or asthma attack once I step outside?

There’s no data to say this, but whether you have asthma or heart disease, or any other chronic illness, do wear a mask. You can DIY an air filter if you can’t afford the ones in the market. Simply cut an industrial grade hepa filter (available online) to the size of an exhaust fan and place it in the room. The bigger the fan, the better. There are also carbon filters and pre-filters available online. All these won’t give you the same protection as professionally built systems, but it will reduce harm, and today, we’re aiming towards as much harm reduction as possible.

Pshhh, I do not have any symptoms related to the pollution. So I can step out anytime right?

Sadly no. There are certain seemingly insignificant effects of air pollution — fatigue for instance. Also, you may not feel any immediate effect, but air pollution affects internal organs, like the respiratory system, the heart, even the nervous system, the liver, the spleen, the blood. The effects of pollution are seen in the long term. So while someone who has, say, heart disease is at risk for immediate medical complications, for someone pollution can be the trigger to kickstart a medical problem. It’s like a perfectly healthy person smoking — that’s never a good thing.

I have some eye and nose dryness with the pollution. Help!

Control the factors you can: avoid contact lenses and eye make-up, rest your eyes from multiple screens — they’re already under stress. Hand hygiene is important, so avoid touching or rubbing eyes with hands that are also exposed to pollution. Dehydration often aggravates allergic and dry eye conditions, so drink at least 10 glasses of water a day. Lubricate the eyes with tear substitutes, such as carboxy methyl cellulose eye drops or even rose water. Jal neti, a naturopathy practice helps to cleanse the nasal cavity, while a steam bath (check with your doc) expels impurities.

Arrey but I can barely breathe in an N95 mask. Aren’t there other options?

Anything new that you need to wear for most of the day takes time to adjust to. Take wearing glasses — it takes about six months to get used to a pair. Look at a mask the same way. Try and get into the habit of wearing one — it’s not an all or nothing situation.

Hey, plants give off oxygen right? So what kind should I be growing inside and around my house?

If you have a garden, trees with larger canopy diameter, leaf surface area, leaves that are either sticky or hairy, play a major role in trapping particulate matter from air. They serve as dust trappers and dirt filters. Guazuma, neem, rain tree and mango are good options. Indoor, you can grow shade-loving plants (dumb cane, silver queen, dracaena, country borage), but oxygen evolution is efficient only in the presence of sunlight. A NASA report has also found bamboo palm, green spider plant and mother-in-law’s tongue to be helpful.

With inputs from Dr KK Aggarwal, President, Heart Care Foundation of India; Dr R Krishnadas, Senior Medical Consultant, Aravind Eye Care System, Madurai; Pauline Deborah, Associate Professor, Department of Plant Biology, Women’s Christian College, Chennai; Dr Rukamani Nair, Director and Medical Head, Bapu Nature Cure Hospital & Yogashram

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