Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
I breathe you in, without quite knowing that you're poison,
I take you in, by lungfuls, without quite knowing that you're stifling me,
I plunge into your depths to draw life without quite knowing that you're drowning me,
I come up for air, without quite knowing that I've been lost under.
They tell me motherhood is as easy as breathing. I instantly ask them, "Do you think breathing the air that we breathe is easy? Then why is it that I'm gasping for fresh air with every breath that I take?"
I should mention something important here. I live in a big city. I am a 34-year old mom to a feisty four-year old girl. I have chronic asthma. It wasn't caused by the environment, as is the case with most asthma cases that get reported these days. It was always there, for as long as I can remember. When I was five, on a Diwali night, while other kids were being loud and cheery, I was being airlifted by my big brother to get nebulized at the closest hospital in the vicinity. That's when it all began.
Every now and then, I think, "OK, big deal. I pretty much lead a normal life." I just have to carry a mouth-freshener (that's what my husband calls my inhaler) with me all the time. And it's just on occasion, usually one with a riot of flowers and fireworks, that it rises on the surface to remind me that all's not well. But with awareness, it can be managed. I have started doing a lot of yoga and I can already feel my energy levels spruce up. So basically, having asthma is just a lifestyle adjustment, right?
Uhh, sure. But mostly, it just sucks to have Asthma.
And not just because as a kid, I'd find myself taking a lot more rest breaks than other kids. In a lot of ways that I'd never thought of before, especially now that I'm an adult. When I was expecting, during my labour consultation, my OB asked me if I have any respiratory problems. Because I had asthma, I was a poor candidate for general anaesthesia since both of them affect the airways. Which meant, in case of a C-section, I was at greater risk of postoperative complications as compared to a healthy person. I thank God every day that I had a swift normal delivery for I don't like the sound of postoperative complications. And speaking of hypothetical risks, here's another one. I have to constantly be on my guard to not get debilitating viral diseases such as Dengue and Malaria cos they'd put me at a greater risk of morbidity and mortality as compared to a normal person. So, you see, I just have to be wary on a daily basis and also think positive and surround myself with healthy vibes since emotional well-being is also imperative for an Asthma fighter. (The word 'patient' just sounds depressing.)
And then I step out to get some fresh air, just having read in the newspaper that as I'm doing that, I'm taking in about two and half packs of cigarettes. Obviously, I can't afford to be a smoker. I look at my daughter, who's fit as a fiddle, walking beside me and I wonder, "Is it worth living in a big city? Can I put her at risk too, especially when I have already contributed to a flaw in her gene pool?"
Air pollution is a matter of urgent concern for all of us. Indian metropolitan cities have been declared to be routinely three to six times more polluted than safe World Health Organization standards. Seasonal air pollution bouts are the worst. What more, it is the toxicity of ultrafine particles in the air—a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets—that is alarming. While they compromise quality breathing, they also travel from our nostrils through neural pathways to our brains. So air pollution does not just affect our lungs; it also affects our neurological functions. The effect is slow but as you grow older, you realize your memory is getting foggy earlier than you had anticipated, your skin and hair are pallid and you feel exhausted nearly all the time.
But what can you really do as parents? You have built your life around your kids in the city, your source of daily livelihood. You can't just flee the scene and live in the mountains, even though you may bring back some of that fresh mountain air in a jar from your vacations.
Should you stop your kids from playing outdoors? You can't. Kids need to be outdoors. Even if you do restrict it and keep them on house-arrest, how do you know that the air within your homes is safe for your kid?
The biggest issue in all of this is that air quality is something that is not tangible so it's hard to take it seriously or attribute your health issues to.
But there is something that I experienced recently and I thought I'd share it in human interest. I'm sure we've all been through this. Some time ago, I had guests at my place for a stay and somebody complained of not having a good night's sleep and developing allergies— a cough and cold—that I just couldn't explain. As embarrassing as it may sound, I felt fine so I thought maybe it's just them. Their immunity is weak or something. My house was spotlessly clean, just having gone through a Diwali makeover, so there was no way it could be because of dust particles in the air.
I decided to read up about it.
Here are some of the causes for unexplained allergic reactions within your homes that you may be unaware of:
Pollen particles in the air - especially common in the summer
Pigeon droppings - one of the leading causes of lung infections in cities like Mumbai
Mould here and there - if there's dampness anywhere within your home
Cooking odours - especially common when you're living in a high-rise apartment, huddled closely with other houses
Passive cigarette smoke
Construction work in the vicinity leading to greater exposure to dust on a daily basis
Smog levels outside that will seep inside your homes too
Bacteria on table tops, within microwaves and in warm, humid areas
Airborne Flu bacteria
There are not many preventive ways that I know we can deal with rising air pollution outdoors except to keep a watch on the smog and air pollution levels and shift the scheme of activity indoors on days when there's a high alert. And something that I'm seriously considering is wearing masks when I can't avoid stepping out in toxic air.
But within our homes, I've found that the the issue of allergies and germ exposure can be addressed to a certain extent with air purifiers. Air purifiers work well not just to eliminate odours but to filter air from pollutants and return fresh air around the house that is relatively germ-free.
Some brands have already started promoting air purifiers in a huge way in India. Eureka Forbes is one of the pioneers in air purifiers, with their product Dr. Aeroguard that removes allergens, airborne bacteria, dust particles and odours from indoor spaces.
I think the mere fact that you have something installed in your homes to ensure your family is free from the risk of disease and rapid debilitation will make you breathe easier.
If nothing, you can count on waking up feeling fresh the next morning. Of course, the struggle is still real for all of us parents who're co-sleeping, waking up with the weight of their child's limbs on their faces :).
Have you installed an air purifier in your house? Do you think it's worthy of its claims? I'd love to hear from you.
Image Reference: International Business Times