Trends 1 June, 2017 Isabel Vallejo
Protect yourself from air pollution and learn more about it.
Medical advisor Mariana Correa Aguirre – Internal medicine physician
Our health and wellbeing are completely dependent upon nature. This is a reciprocal relationship, as the planet’s health also depends on us. While it has always been this way, currently it is more noticeable due to the impact the environment’s deterioration is having on our health.
The foods that we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe are resources that come from the earth to meet our basic needs. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, and especially in recent decades, the soil where we produce our food, our water resources and the atmosphere have become contaminated, negatively affecting our health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 23% of deaths around the world are related to environmental factors. Two-thirds of this percentage is directly related to air pollution.
Internal medicine physician Mariana Correa Aguirre discusses the effects of air pollution on health, “There are a number of industrial processes or products that we use that produce particles, which because of their size and type, are inhaled. Instead of staying in the nose, these particles go directly to the lungs. This is how this part of the body is harmed directly or how it experiences a direct inflammatory response.”
Anatomically, our respiratory systems have physiological barriers that filter the air so that it can enter the lungs in its purest form. Despite this, there are particles that are so small that they pass through all of these filters and become lodged in the lung tissue. These particles are known as PM 2.5 because their size is equal or less than 2.5 micrometers or to offer a more concise idea they are one-hundred times thinner than a human hair. The majority of these particles are produced by humans and are sent into the air via vehicles, power plants, factories and fuel combustion.
Cause of disease
Recent studies suggest that these types of particles play a role in children developing asthma and allergies, are the reason behind an increase of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and raise people’s chance of getting lung cancer. They also have also shown to be tied to cardiovascular diseases, as their small size allows them to enter the bloodstream. A study conducted by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, also relates long-term exposure to ozone and PM 2.5 particles with depression. “It is known that CO2 affects the central nervous system in a way that can increase irritability, anxiety and depression,” Correa Aguirre adds. This explains why stress levels are high when people spend time in the street either as drivers or pedestrians.
In cities with greater levels of pollution, some flu or respiratory diseases occur more often and last longer, “A cough normally lasts one week. In places with higher pollution levels, a cough can last two weeks due to the fact that it takes longer for people’s respiratory epithelium to recover, the tissue that lines the organs of the respiratory tract,” Dr. Correa points out. In addition to coughing, pollution can cause nasal discharge, dry noses and throats, and changes in the voice to last longer. To help regenerate the respiratory epithelium after being sick, keep your throat well hydrated with water, honey or fresh aloe vera.
“In general, when the air quality is compromised and alerts are issued (yellow, orange or red), it is best to use a face mask,” the specialist suggests. At these times, it is important to avoid exercising outside and to try not to expose more vulnerable populations to the air, such as children, older adults and pregnant women.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about these particles. “Inside a lung, you can see the patches where these particles are lodged. These patches are black, and they cannot be reversed to return to their original color,” the doctor adds. For now, prevention is the only option. “I don’t know if in the future there will be the technology to clean the lungs, but I think we need to find the technology to clean the air,” Dr. Correa states.
Over the last ten years, respiratory diseases have increased progressively while air quality has reduced gradually. As humans. we must take care of our health, but we also must take care of the environment, as it is very difficult to have a good quality of life with bad air quality.
Exposure to environmental pollution can cause allergic or irritant conjunctivitis, which is why it is important to keep your eyes hydrated.
Saving the environment is in our hands
- Drive less in order to lower toxic emission levels.
- Ride a bike, walk, use public transportation and carpool with classmates and coworkers.
- Avoid buying disposable and plastic items that are not biodegradable.
- Recycle garbage and reuse or compost what you can.
- Be careful not to throw garbage on the street in the forest or at parks; place it in a bag or cover it.
- Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly in the garden.
- Avoid smoking tobacco.
- Protect the forests and avoid behaviors that can lead to forest fires or destroy green areas in the city.
- Reduce your use of cleaning products.
- Dispose of hazardous waste and chemicals properly such as batteries, motor oil, paint and solvents. Find places where you can dispose of this type of waste.