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Clearing the Air: Your Guide to Tackling Air Pollution

Feb 21, 2024

4 min read

Breathe easy with these practical tips to combat air pollution and protect your lungs.

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Visual representation of industries polluting air with toxic gases.
Saloni Prajapati - Fluent Health



Are you ready to be air pollution warriors? We need to address something that affects us all— air pollution. Air pollution is a critical challenge of our times, significantly influencing and influenced by climate change and public health. We breathe in polluted air, consisting of smog and invisible particles that wreak havoc on our respiratory health. 

Science has taught us how our airways are designed to filter incoming air, but doctors describe how they’re now overwhelmed by delicate particulate matter (PM), ozone, and toxic gases. These intruders trigger a cascade of reactions—PM irritate and inflame airways, leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Ozone damages lung tissue, while gases like nitrogen dioxide contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and possibly even lung cancer. 

A cough seems to be the normal state of affairs for most people, no matter where we are.   Studies state that contaminated air isn’t just bad for our lungs; it also causes dry cough and breathing problems and might even cause new health issues like asthma, flu, croup, common cold, chest infection, laryngitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, whooping cough, cystic fibrosis, allergies and so much more.

Reports from WHO claim air pollution weakens the immune system, making it vulnerable to respiratory infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis. It can exacerbate conditions like asthma and allergies. Studies even link it to cognitive decline and heart disease.

Turns out, it’s not just a problem outdoors; it can sneak into our homes too. We spoke to Dr Pujan Parikh, MBBS, MD(Pulmonary Medicine), to check our odds on how to fight back. 

Understanding the Enemy: What is Air Pollution?

Dr Parikh explains there are two types of pollution: Indoor and outdoor. “The former is caused by burning things inside a home, like mosquito repellants, water heaters, etc,” he says. “Though seemingly innocent, mosquito repellents and water heaters can surprisingly contribute to indoor air pollution. Chemical sprays release insecticides that irritate the lungs, while gas-powered heaters emit harmful fumes if not properly vented.” 

He goes on to elaborate saying that outdoor air pollution is primarily driven by pollutants released from vehicle exhaust, industrial activities, and the burning of fossil fuels. “These emissions contribute to the presence of harmful substances such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds in the air.

The Impact of Air Pollution on Your Health

A woman grasping her chest due to immense pain.

Let’s talk about the real consequences of air pollution on our health. From chronic conditions like COPD to more serious issues like lung cancer, polluted air can wreak havoc on our respiratory systems. And it’s not just our lungs that suffer—studies even link air pollution to cognitive decline and heart disease. Reports claim that exposure to long-term air pollution can reduce lung function, particularly in vulnerable populations, the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions. 

This decline in lung function can result in chronic conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema, which significantly impact an individual's quality of life. Additionally, air pollution has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, with prolonged exposure increasing the risk of developing lung cancer. 

Studies say beyond respiratory issues, long-term exposure to air pollution, especially fine particulate matter, has been associated with an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. These health impacts underscore the critical need for effective measures to address air quality, particularly in urban areas where pollution levels are typically higher.

Reports state short-term exposure to air pollution can cause respiratory distress, especially in those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or COPD. The irritating effects of ozone and PM2.5 can lead to coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. These pollutants can also weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis. 

Your Toolbox for Tackling Air Pollution

A woman is breathing easily, feeling calm and carefree.

Ready to fight back against air pollution? Here are some practical tips to help you protect your lungs and breathe easier:


Keep an eye on air quality using apps or government websites, and plan your outdoor activities accordingly. Try to avoid outdoor exercise during peak pollution hours.

Mask Up:

Invest in a high-quality mask, like an N95 or KN95, for those high-pollution days. Cloth masks and surgical masks offer limited protection, so consider upgrading for extra defense.

Protect Your Home:

Keep windows and doors closed during peak pollution hours, and consider using a HEPA air purifier to filter out harmful particles indoors.


Wear masks whenever the AQI is high, and practice good hygiene to minimise the impact of air pollution on your health. Dr Parikh also believes regular exercise supports lung health. 


Support environmental policies that aim to reduce air pollution at its source and advocate for cleaner air and sustainable practices in your community. The WHO Air Quality Guidelines offer science-backed limits for key air pollutants like PM2.5 and ozone, aiming to protect public health globally. These guidelines provide targets for governments to set stricter air quality standards, informing policies, resource allocation, and emission reduction strategies to ultimately deliver cleaner air for all.

From monitoring air quality to investing in high-quality masks, there are plenty of steps you can take to fight back against pollution and keep yourself healthy. 

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Don Mascarenhas, Interventional Pulmonologist and Respiratory Medicine

Saloni Prajapati - Fluent Health

Saloni Prajapati started in entertainment journalism at India TV before seamlessly venturing into the world of AI, tech, and start-ups. Known for her insightful reporting, she likes to tell stories about the industry in a way that’s meaningful for her viewers and readers.

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