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September 2009
Diwali: Asthma in the Air
Air pollution from Diwali fireworks can aggravate Asthma
Dr Pradyut Waghray
One of the earliest such studies was conducted in the 1950s when the smog in London was blamed for the rise in wheeze and cough among the residents.

In India, studies were conducted in major cities to compare Lung Function Test results of two sets of people. One set of people included residents of apartments with windows facing traffic junctions, while another set was those who stayed in flats away from the main roads. The people who stayed close to traffic signals showed higher reduction in lung capacity.

Diwali Pollution High emissions of firework smoke during Diwali add to the pollution. Fire crackers when burnt, release pollutants like sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, manganese and even cadmium, which damage the respiratory tract. For asthma patients, who already have hyperactive airways, these pollutants further irritate the bronchial mucosa and swell up the inner linings of the respiratory tract. A certain particulate matter in the air, called PM10 (particulate matter with a mass median aerodynamic diameter less than 10 microns) is potentially very damaging.

These particles are so small that when inhaled, they can penetrate deep inside the lungs, and deposit themselves in the smaller airways and lung parenchyma. All these cause spasms in the patients, triggering asthma attacks. In some cases, when the air becomes thick with smoke, patients are unable to breathe on their own and may even have to be hospitalised.

Asthma patients staying in congested localities are more likely to suffer as the smoke generated by firecrackers does not disperse easily.

So when you light 'em up and see them go up in smoke, remember – your idea of fun could be an asthma patient's nightmare.
Dr Pradyut Waghray is Consultant Chest Physician and Senior Consultant Pulmonologist at Apollo Health City, Hyderabad

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