With pollution levels in several Indian cities touching dangerous proportions, an increasing number of people are complaining of respiratory problems and chronic lung diseases. Some of them are being advised to take a break from their cities to detox their lungs. Others, the more severe cases, are being advised to leave the city altogether. That’s easier said than done.
While leaving the city — lock, stock and barrel — might not always be possible, there are certain ways in which one can ensure that the air we breathe in is cleaner. There are also ways to cleanse the lungs of toxic air while staying in the city — whether you are in your house, where you can control the environment to some extent, or if you are travelling.
OXYGENATE YOUR HOME
A combination of the right air purifier and certain kinds of indoor plants works well for removing — or limiting — particulate matter and harmful gases like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from your house, say indoor air quality solution providers. Several kinds of air purifiers are now available in the market: Sharp, Panasonic, Eureka Forbes, Philips, BlueAir, Honeywell, Atlanta, Camfil and more.
Ask an expert which one will work best for you. Most experts will test an air purifier for its airflow, the level to which it reduces particulate matter, and filter size and quality. “Some products designed for countries where air quality is much better than it is in India might not work here,” says Barun Aggarwal, director of Delhi-based clean air consultancy, BreatheEasy. “An expensive machine ranked highly on independent review websites, for example, might not necessarily perform well in the capital.” It might even be wise to get the air filter customised.
An air filter is a portable machine that can be moved from one room to another. It can be turned on an hour before you go to bed and can be kept on through the night. “It doesn’t consume too much power,” says Aggarwal. You might need a separate air purifier for rooms of different sizes. For example, he says, the Sharp FU-A80E-W (Rs 30,990) is ideal for a room of up to 300 sq ft, while the Sharp FU-Z31E-W (Rs 16,990) can take care of the air quality in a room of up to 120 sq ft. The BlueAir 650E (Rs 95,000) works for a room of up to 400 sq ft, while the Camfil City M (Rs 90,000) would suit a 300 sq ft room.
Opinion, however, is divided on the efficacy of air purifiers. But doctors like Vikas Maurya, senior consultant (respiratory, allergy and sleep disorder) at Delhi’s BLK Super Speciality Hospital, say while not everybody might need to install an air purifier at home, those with chronic lung diseases like asthma and dust allergy will certainly benefit from them.
Having an air purifier means that you will need to keep the doors and windows shut. This increases the risk of stale air circulating in the room. This is where indoor plants help. Aggarwal recommends three kinds: areca palm, which gives oxygen during the day and removes carbon dioxide; sansevieria (commonly called mother-in-law's tongue), which can be kept in the bedroom because it releases more oxygen at night; and the good old money plant that helps remove volatile organic compounds, especially formaldehyde, from the air, and reduces the level of particulate matter. Keep these plants clean; wipe their leaves on both sides so that they too can breathe healthy, like you.
STEER CLEAR OF THE CROWDS
“W hen you are commuting in the city, avoid the arterial roads, which are the major, high-traffic routes. Follow this rule particularly if you are on foot,” says Vikas Maurya of BLK Hospital. “Also, keep your car’s air-conditioner in the ‘internal circulation’ mode. This will recirculate the air in the car, instead of pulling in toxic air and vehicular fumes from outside,” he says. But this would also require you to get the car air-conditioner serviced regularly to contain the pollution levels inside the car.
Face masks are a must, especially if you use public transport like the auto-rickshaw or the Metro, or for stretches that you leg it. But not just any mask will do. Most chemists will pull out the paper-thin, green surgical masks if you ask them for a mask. But those don’t help. “Specifically ask for the N95 for N99 masks,” says Maurya.
These filter out 95 to 99 per cent of the toxic gases, block the smallest respiratory particles and keep out even droplets. They are available mostly in hospitals. “ The N95 masks are available for Rs 300-Rs 400 and are disposable. Each mask can’t be used for more than 24 hours, Maurya says. “If you are using it for only a couple of hours a day, while commuting, then maybe you can use it for two to three days.”
There are other masks too, their price varying from Rs 50 to Rs 2,000 a piece, says Aggarwal of BreatheEasy. For example, there is the ‘Vogmask’ (Rs 1,800-Rs 2,400 each), which is rated as N99 and lasts for four to six months. Then there is ‘Venus’. “These industrial-grade masks filter out gases, odour and particles,” says Aggarwal. These are available in three categories, also defined by the colour of the mask: green (N95 equivalent) with carbon filter for traffic fumes, costing Rs 100 each or Rs 900 for a box of 15; white (N95), costing Rs 100 each or Rs 720 for a box of 15; and yellow (N93), costing Rs 50 each or Rs 600 for a box of 20.
A mask is, however, a necessity we haven’t become comfortable with yet. “I have noticed that in India, people are reluctant to wear pollution masks,” says yoga expert Bansal. “During a recent trip to Kathmandu, where air quality is very poor, I found a majority of people wearing masks. On Delhi streets, instead, you see people covering their faces with handkerchiefs, which don’t really filter all the pollutants.”
GO THE YOGA WAY
“Ujjayi breathing is very effective in dealing with allergies and infections caused by polluted air,” says yoga expert Rahul Bansal. “You can practise it for 15 to 20 minutes a day — or even twice a day, morning and evening, so long as your stomach is empty.” This is a diaphragmatic breath that first fills the lower belly and then rises to the lower rib cage. It involves the manipulation of the flow of breath, both inhalation and exhalation. “This type of pranayama (breathing exercise) is known to clear the throat, decongest the chest and boost the body’s immunity,” Bansal says. It can be practised by anyone, even the elderly, and can be done in different postures, such as while sitting cross-legged, or sitting on a straight chair or even while lying down on a firm mattress or on the floor. However, it should first be done only under the guidance of a yoga teacher who is well versed with the technique of Ujjayi, he says.
Delhi-based yoga teacher and naturopath Vijay Singh Gusain recommends kapalbhati. Kapalbhati might, however, not be recommended for people with some kinds of ailments. He also suggests jala neti, the cleansing of the nose, which, he says, works well if you suffer from sinus. However, all these must be attempted only under the guidance of a yoga expert.