Run away families: What is forcing Mumbaikars to leave their houses?

Diwali is a time of lights, bright colours and get-together. While for most of us, Diwali vacations could mean staying outdoors and enjoying the crackers but for a lot of families, the tradition has been the other way around. Experts in the city say that many patients like Rajesh’s family, prefer to take a Diwali break in abroad or pollution free tourist places to escape the smoke and noise pollution in the city

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For more than 24 years now, Rajesh’s family has been touring hill stations across the country to escape Diwali. “Both my daughters- Ipshita and Tanishta suffer from asthma. They would literally struggle to breathe properly during Diwali. From thereon, every Diwali, we go to hill stations that make it up for perfect family outing, away from the maddening pollution by the crackers,” said Indira Rajesh, a resident of Thane.

Experts in the city say that many patients like Rajesh’s prefer to take a diwali break in abroad or pollution free tourist places to escape the smoke and noise pollution in the city. The city, which has population of over one million suffering from some stage of asthma, has been seeing a manifold increase in asthma and other upper respiratory cases in Diwali.

“During Diwali there is a change of season. So there is a mixture of both, change of season as well as air pollution. This causes allergies starting from, nasal and eye allergies, asthma worsens. People get COPD attacks. A lot of people go on vacations to prevent themselves from the allergies and respiratory problems,” said Dr. Aditya Agrawal, a chest specialist at Bhatia Hospital.

Gaseous air-pollutants emitted from firecrackers aggravate the risk of an attack in asthmatics. Such pollutants also have the potential to cause new cases of asthma. Crackers are one of the provoking factors for childhood bronchial asthma, particularly in children between 6-12 years and it has now been established that 26% of people without any prior history of respiratory ailments develop symptoms of coughing, wheezing and breathlessness especially during Diwali.

(from L to R) Indira, Ipshita, Tanishta and Rajesh
(from L to R) Indira, Ipshita, Tanishta and Rajesh

The reason is that crackers contain 75% potassium nitrate, 15% carbon and 10% sulphur and when they are burnt, harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, manganese and even cadmium are released, which irritate the delicate airways of lungs and worsen the condition of people with pulmonary diseases.

Doctors say that it is children, pregnant women, senior citizens, diabetic and hypertension people and immunosuppressant people who are more vulnerable to catch air borne diseases. It has been reported that long-term exposure to air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter can cause reduced lung growth in children and the effects are more pronounced in areas where air pollution is higher.

Dr Gautam Bhansali, consulting general physician at Bombay Hospital said, “The air pollution can be troublesome for patients with asthma, respiratory diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, harmful for bronchial asthma patients, it can leave you breathless. Noise pollution is not good for new born babies, elderly people, heart patients and people with hypertension. So, mouth should be covered with a mask or use a handkerchief while bursting firecrackers. Even if the children light fire crackers, it should be under adult supervision. Use Low-decibel fireworks which will reduce sound pollution.”