Winter is coming
The elusive nip in the air notwithstanding, it's time to keep your guard up against health concerns that doctors are observing with rise in pollution levels
Bandra may not yet have a smog-inspired moniker, like its hip Delhi counterpart "Haze Khas" does, but the once relatively clean air of Mumbai has taken a hit over the years. This May, the WHO ranked Mumbai the fourth most polluted megacity in the world, up from fifth place in 2017.
With the city's overall Air Quality Index consistently falling in the range of moderately polluted for the past one month, the otherwise welcome dip in temperature expected in the coming weeks is likely to make the air you breathe in unhealthier.
Dr Rahul Bahot
City-based doctors have already been witnessing a rise in the number of patients they are treating for pollution-induced health concerns. "Unlike in summer, when warm air drifts up carrying the pollutants with it, you are exposed to pollutants that tend to float down when it's cold," explains family physician Dr Shreekant Shetty.
He adds that the city's haphazard development has contributed to the problem. "Residential complexes have come up in industrial belts that were once considered the outskirts of the city," he says. This constant exposure, too, worsens during winter.
Dr Batul Patel
We spoke to experts to understand the insidious impact of pollution — which may start with wheezing, watery eyes or itchy scalp — so the next time you step out, you are better equipped to limit your exposure.
Follow a healthy skin care routine
Skin, the largest organ of the body, has the first and most prolonged exposure to pollution. "A direct outcome of this is oxidative stress, which induces free radical formation in the body, and this in turn, damages the collagen," explains Dr Batul Patel, dermatologist and medical director, The Bombay Skin Clinic. "The kind of UV rays we are exposed to are much stronger than what they used to be, and I have been seeing several cases of facial redness, which worsens with sun exposure," she adds. Exposure to smog has also resulted in the sensitive scalp syndrome, characterised by itching, dandruff, oily-ness and pain in the hair roots.
Dr Patel recommends following a healthy skin and hair care routine. "Sunscreen needs to be reapplied through the day," she says, and for those aged 35 and above, she suggests use of recovery cream with Vitamin C and night cream containing retinol. A healthy diet rich in fruit, nuts and vitamins is a must. "People tend to avoid washing their hair with shampoo frequently. But it's important to remove the particulate matter that settles on your scalp. Using a good SLS-free shampoo, and conditioner can go a long way in protecting your hair," she says.
When air quality suffers, pulmonary health is among the worst affected. "A landmark study conducted in Mumbai from 1995 to 2015 showed evidence-based data pointing to a significant growth in the number of patients affected by air pollution. The incidence of chronic and acute bronchitis, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and asthma attacks, and respiratory health-related hospital admissions have gone up," says Dr Rahul Bahot, consultant chest physician at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre.
Dr Shetty points out that a spike in the number of personal vehicles in Mumbai and the resultant vehicular exhaust has aggravated respiratory disorders. He recommends use of public transport, and covering the face with a mask or wet handkerchief in case of unavoidable exposure. Dr Bahot also suggests switching to clean energy, and use of air purifiers to curb indoor pollution. "Housing societies that resort to incineration as a means of garbage disposal must consider alternate solutions," he says. A Mediterranean diet rich in fibre, protein and Vitamins D and E helps combat the impact of exposure to pollutants, Dr Bahot adds.
Soothe your eyes
"A dip in temperature coupled with rise in pollution levels means the incidence of ocular surface disorders increases. So we are seeing patients complaining of allergic eye diseases, dry eye symptoms, redness, watering and strain in the eye and photo phobia," says Dr Kavita Rao, director, cornea, cataract and refractive services at Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital.
She refers to a recent Delhi-based study on the impact of environmental pollution on the eyes, where of the 45 per cent individuals among whom these symptoms were found, worse findings were observed in patients exposed to air pollution. She recommends the use of wrap-around glasses to limit exposure to pollutants. "Self-medication is best avoided," she says, pointing to the overuse common vasoconstrictor-decongestant eye drops, which provide temporary relief but prove harmful in the long-run.
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