Can exposure to polluted air increase the risk of developing pneumonia?

The Covid 19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the importance of maintaining healthy lungs and the diseases related to the respiratory system. Amongst these diseases, pneumonia is the most common.

“Pneumonia or consolidation is an inflammatory disease affecting the lungs. It happens due to an accumulation of fluid in the alveolus (the basic functioning unit of lung), which results in the obstruction of normal breathing,” said Dr Harish Chafle, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Critical Care at Global Hospital, Mumbai.

Pneumonia is caused predominantly but not solely by bacteria, viruses and fungi. All over the world, pneumonia is the major cause of paediatric mortality, especially in children under five years.

It has been a common observation in many studies done worldwide that the risk of developing pneumonia is doubled following exposure to air pollution in ambient air as well as due to outdoor air pollution. Post-exposure, these air pollutants compromise the host’s immune response against invading pathogens in the respiratory tract. There are special type of cells for immune response against organisms in our airways, Dr Chafle explained.

As per the expert, one of them, the epithelial cells lining the alveolar sacs, are specialised in secreting cytokines and radicals in response to foreign evading bodies. These are responsible for the recruitment of inflammatory cells such as macrophages and phagocytes to the site of invasion, which then eat and digest these foreign organisms.

Delhi Today Live Update, News Delhi Live It is important to take preventive steps. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

“However, high levels of air pollution can lead to a compromise in this sterilisation and filtration mechanism of the respiratory tract, therefore, increasing the risk of the development of acute lower respiratory infections in individuals who get constant exposure to environmental air pollution,” mentioned Dr Chafle.

Furthermore, the mucociliary apparatus and cellular immune defences have also been shown to be significantly reduced by nitrogen dioxide which is the major component often observed in polluted air. This is how air pollution can contribute for the occurrence of pneumonia.

Following are the six steps that will help stay away from pneumonia

*Flu is the common cause of pneumonia worldwide, hence one must get a flu vaccine each year beforehand.

*It has been found that people who already have pre-existing lung problems like asthma, COPD, lung fibrosis, lung cancer etc, are at increased risk of developing pneumonia. Also, adults over 65 years and children less than five years who are at risk of having pneumococcal pneumonia need to take the pneumococcal vaccine. It can prevent pneumococcal pneumonia as well as other diseases like pertussis, chickenpox, and measles.

*Keep your hands clean by using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitisers. When we touch our face with infected hands, the germs get an easy entry into our respiratory tract which causes severe respiratory infections.

*Avoid smoking in any form — active as well as passive. When you smoke, you are at increased risk of getting pneumonia because tobacco present in the smoke damages one’s lung’s ability to fight any infection.

*Maintain good health habits. Eating right, exercising on time, and getting enough sleep can help prevent pneumonia and other diseases. “You should talk to your chest physician for any doubts or concerns regarding this,” said Dr Chafle.

*Wearing a mask above the nose and below the chin can prevent one from getting infected due to any invading pathogen, thus preventing its entry in our body.

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