Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, respiratory illnesses were not uncommon among the global population. Across the world, the risk of contracting these illnesses grows higher due in part to the firecrackers used during the celebration of various events such as 4th of July celebrations in the USA, or Diwali celebrations in India.
Even ten years ago, medical professionals and experts were warning people of the health risks firecrackers bring with them. According to Dr. Sham Sunder Raj, a Hyderabad based pulmonary specialist, 26% of otherwise healthy people showed increased symptoms of coughing, wheezing and breathlessness, specifically during and after Diwali celebrations. There was a yearly growth in the number of people suffering from respiratory illness due to external factors.
Now, COVID-19 presents an extremely high number of people worldwide who are facing problems with breathing post infection. Combined with standard external factors such as air pollution and firecrackers, this creates a recipe for disaster.
What causes an increase in respiratory issues during Diwali?
Firecrackers are made up of various materials that interact with each other to create the beautiful sparks and festive mood of Diwali. However, this beautiful light show has ingredients that turn one's health into an ugly business.
Every year, bursting firecrackers raises the levels of Sulphur Dioxide by up to 200 times of the "safe" levels as described by the WHO. Apart from Sulphur Dioxide, levels of other harmful gases such as Carbon Monoxide, Manganese, and Cadmium also increase in the atmosphere, causing several respiratory illnesses. Moreover, the added pollutants in the atmosphere also contribute towards smog and higher risks of asthma attacks.
These pollutants and toxic gases do not dissipate from the atmosphere quickly. It is a long process, usually taking up to 4 months, which is 1/3rd of the year! It is easy for people to succumb to breathing issues within this long period.
Who is likely to be affected the most?
COVID-19 affected patients - As COVID is a respiratory illness, patients of the disease face higher risks of illness, which can make their quality of life suffer. This is on par with other respiratory illnesses, but as COVID affected the largest number of people, it is worth noting as a separate demographic.
People working outdoors - Such people face the highest level of exposure to the pollutants in the air, and thus are highly prone to suffering from respiratory issues.
Children - The respiratory tract is not completely developed in younger people, so they are also highly affected by pollutants. Additionally, playing outdoors exposes children to the toxic gases in the atmosphere.
Elderly People - In many cases, elderly people have a weaker immune system. This leads to them being more at risk of health issues caused by smog. Also, increased exposure to pollutants may even make other pre-existing health conditions worse.
Patients of respiratory illnesses - People who are living with asthma or other respiratory issues face higher chances of contracting an illness during Diwali. The added pollutants in the air affect the respiratory tract and make their condition worse.
Tips to deal with the side effects of bursting firecrackers
Here are a few tips from Dr Harish Chafle, Global Hospitals' Senior Consultant of Pulmonology & Critical Care to deal with air pollution during Diwali:
An N95 mask is important - If bursting firecrackers, wear an N95 mask to prevent the noxious fumes from entering the nose or respiratory track and causing irritation. This will help prevent the occurrence of an asthma attack in most cases.
Medicines & nebulizers - Preparation is key! In case the children in your home are susceptible to respiratory issues, then check whether the Paediatrician recommends an increase in the dosage of their medicines. Nebulizers may be useful too, in case they are required and recommended by the Paediatrician.
Maintain hygiene - Remember to wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Ask children in the home to use a napkin and clear their nose if they feel any sort of irritation.
Avoid evening outings - Avoid going outdoors when possible during the festival season. Generally, the air is highly polluted during the evening, so it's better to avoid going outdoors with your children.
Avoid Diwali cleaning - The festive season often calls for a complete cleaning of the house before Diwali. However, Dr. Chafle warns against doing this for everyone who has respiratory issues or allergies. The dust generated during the cleaning process can trigger underlying issues or asthma attacks.
Keep an inhaler close - Having an inhaler handy can help in reducing the risks related to asthma attacks. Maintaining a proper dosage of antihistamines and prescribed medication can help as well.
While celebrating festive occasions is a great way to honour traditions and have fun, health should also be a concern. Firecrackers and other harmful pollutants make life difficult for sufferers of respiratory illness, and can often cause more harm than good. It is an urgent need for everyone to realise that bursting firecrackers not only affects the environment, but the health and well-being of their fellow citizens. Keeping all of this in mind, it is in everyone’s best interests to reduce the amount of firecrackers that are burnt, in order to lessen their harmful effects on the world at large.
Click here for more tips on how to manage chronic ailments in day to day life.