Delhiites never seem to have had it so bad, health-wise that is. Still grappling to get dengue, malaria, chikungunya and viral fever that have been plaguing the city since this past September under control, the thick smog that has enveloped the city for over a week now has forced many – especially those with asthma, high blood pressure, heart condition and infants and older persons – to make a beeline for the hospitals.

Delhi’s air has registered a sharp deterioration in quality, according to Centre for Science and Environment executive director Anumita Roychowdhury. “The smog and existing pollution level in the city exceed the standard level of killer particles by five to six times and are associated with significant increases in health risks. High exposure is known to lead to increased hospitalisation for asthma, lung diseases, chronic bronchitis and heart damage. Long-term exposure can even cause lung cancer.”

“The nitrogen dioxide levels too have shown an increase in areas including Mandir Marg, Civil Lines and R. K. Puram. This dioxide, coming from vehicular emission, can trigger serious respiratory conditions and sudden death syndrome among infants,” she added.

According to a CSE release, particulate matter in Delhi air has registered a rise of 47 per cent between 2000 and 2011. Nitrogen dioxide levels too leapt by 57 per cent during the period. “Delhi’s air has shown presence of high levels of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and benzene,” noted Ms. Roychowdhury.

Hospitals too claim that the polluted air has caused allergic bronchitis, cough/cold, breathlessness, fevers, wheezing and eye irritation/ infection cases to rise.

Nova Speciality Surgery internal medicine personnel Dr. Navneet Kaur said: “There has definitely been a jump in the number of people coming in with pollution-related problems. This is a situation that we see typically around Diwali and immediately after the festival. Breathing problems are the most common ailment that people are reporting in with at present.”

Stating that eye irritation and infections because of the persistent problem could also be attributed to the high pollution level, Medfort Hospital eye specialist Dr. Tyag Murti Sharma said: “We are seeing a lot of patients who are complaining of eye irritation, watering and discomfort because of dryness. The solution is to wash the eyes four to five times a day and in case the problem persists to consultant a qualified doctor.”

The oppressive weather is also putting pressure on those with a heart condition, with cardiothoracic surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital Dr. Ganesh K. Mani stating: “Change of season is anyway a difficult time for those with heart problems and we are seeing breathlessness, increased susceptibility to cold and cough and more pain while recovering from surgery.”

Meanwhile, refuting charges of rising pollution levels in the city, Delhi Pollution Control Committee member secretary Sandeep Mishra says that there has not been an increase of even a single pollution unit level in the city. “The smog is because of slow wind speeds, low temperatures and high humidity. The conditions will get better as soon as the wind velocity picks up and the sun comes out. The pollutants are not able to escape because there is no wind to carry them away and hence they are hanging heavy on the city.”

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