The correlation between respiratory diseases and high levels of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) isn’t a new concept. However, the Journal of the Association of Physicians in India (JAPI) recently published a study by doctors from KEM Hospital, Parel to study the need for a National Health policy to reduce the SPMs and all the related factors in six areas in Maharashtra. The study was conducted in the areas of Borivali, Andheri, Khar, Worli, Bhandup and Maravali (Chembur east).
“The main purpose of the study was to identify factors and triggers leading to respiratory diseases. Since every region is peculiar, they needed to be studied individually,” said Dr Amita Athavale, main researcher and professor at KEM hospital.
The study pointed out that Mumbai has rising levels of SPM due to construction activities, bakeries, hotels and open burning, road dust and vehicular exhaust. Explaining the link between SPM and respiratory diseases, doctors say SPM lodges in lung tissues and causes respiratory problems. Inhaling SPM over a prolonged period is associated with health problems like acute respiratory tract infections, aggravated asthma, lung infection and chronic bronchitis.
SPM is a mix of particles such as vehicular smoke, dust, sand, nickel, lead etc. It lodges in lung tissues and causes respiratory problems which can lead to asthma, wheezing and many such respiratory infections/diseases.
“Maravali area has highest SPM levels, also has highest respiratory morbidity (disease). This could be due to the Maravali’s close proximity to industries. In Borivali, on the other hand the air quality was well within normal limits had lowest respiratory morbidity. Remaining areas had SPM levels beyond permissible limits,” said Dr Athavale.
The study emphasised the role of environmental monitoring in identification of triggers. It said, in a thickly populated megacity like Mumbai, a code for construction, demolition work and road repair work for containment of dust generated during construction activity should be followed.
The study recommended the need to issue an advisory for closure of open drainage to reduce bacterial contamination of air. “In our study, we found that areas with open drainage system having higher bacterial spore count and showed increased symptoms of cough, wheezing, and chest tightness,” said Dr Athavale.
The study also added that identifying local sources of allergens like pigeon feathers and excreta; can help in reducing the burden from respiratory diseases by adopting methods to control bird infestation.
Interestingly, the study stated that there is direct relationship between age and prevalence of asthma. “When we talk about age as a factor, we mean that adult asthma could be triggered by environmental factors. The study focused on the collective efforts that could be implemented in order to prevent asthma,” said Dr Athavale.
Doctors say lower respiratory tract infections are a persistent and a pervasive health problem which impose an enormous burden on the society. “Respiratory ailments are the most frequent reasons for consulting a paediatrician; the commonest once being cough and cold. They are of concern when the cough becomes recurrent or persistent causing interference in the daily routine of the child,” said Dr Amin Kaba, Consultant Paediatrician, Saifee Hospital.
According to a study, the prevalence of asthma in Mumbai is reported to be 3.5%. Dr Asha Pherwani, who is a consultant paediatrician and allergy and asthma specialist, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai said that there is definitely a rise of asthma patients. “Asthma among kids is a real problem now-a-days that is rising.”
Dr Aditya Agrawal, a chest specialist at Bhatia Hospital, “High number of SPM does result in symptoms of Asthma; which essentially means that if you are exposed to high RSPM, the symptoms like cough or breathlessness could go higher.”