THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM DAMAGE
The long-term effects of air pollution include serious diseases like cancer. The highly polluted city air slowly metamorphoses our healthy and pink colored lung tissues into darkened particles of smog, dust, and other pollutants, making the lungs more vulnerable to infection. The highly sensitive respiratory system can be damaged in a number of ways.
Environmental pollution: One of the potent dangers is the environmental pollution. The environment smog contains many chemicals. Many of these chemicals are exhausted by the vehicles and the industries. What is more, several household cleaning products also emit such poisonous gases.
Cigarette smoke: This is yet another dangerous emission. The passive smokers are the hardest hit. Burning fags pose a serious threat to our respiratory system. Tobacco smoke contains over 40 chemicals including the dangerous tar. Most of them are known causes of cancer. Approximately 90 per cent of lung cancer cases among men, and more than 70 per cent among women have been traced to smoking.
Besides tar several other chemicals enter our lungs from a burning cigarette. The tar from a single cigarette temporarily immobilizes the cilia of the upper and lower tracts of the respiratory route. The tar also temporarily paralyses the macrophages in the lung alveoli. When the cleansing and filtering functions are made inactive, the lungs and the air passages are laid bare to the different particles, viruses and bacteria that are airborne besides of course the tar.
These substances settle down in the lungs’ mucous layers. It takes almost an hour for the paralyzed cilia to recover. But repeated paralyzing from the heated tar eventually kills them. Mucus builds up as a result of repeated smoking. The accumulated mucus blocks the smaller air passages. The obstruction triggers the “smoker’s cough”. This familiar reflex cough is the distressed lung’s effort to clear the air routes.
Indoor air pollution: This is one of the most dangerous but often disregarded dangers. The offices and homes are mostly bases of indoor air pollution. Many cleaning compounds besides furniture and synthetic carpets, certain construction materials, and even air fresheners emit hazardous gases. These remain highly concentrated in unventilated or AC rooms. The most vulnerable sections of people exposed to these respiratory dangers are children, elderly people and those having a history of respiratory illnesses. These people generally spend most of their time within the four walls. The indoor air pollutants not only weaken our lungs but also invite infections.
Occupational risks: Many professionals are daily exposed to impurities released by their activities. These workers run a high risk of suffering from respiratory diseases. Mention may be made of people picking cotton, those working in work in farms or shipyards, mechanics installing brake insulation or lining. Other people who suffer from such risks are miners, construction workers, quarry workers, stone cutters, and sandblasters among others.
GOVERNMENT & NGO MONITORING OF POLLUTION
All the governments have their independent agencies to monitor the pollution levels. There are also non-governmental agencies (NGOs) that carry out this activity. The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in USA, for instance, issues regulations for protection of workers. It has made mandatory the wearing of air masks with filters for certain jobs. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) monitors and also regulates the pollutants released into the air by different organizations and industries. In spite of such efforts, across the world, various types of respiratory illnesses have registered a rise.
DISORDERS & DISEASES OF THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Any portion of the respiratory tract can be affected by the disorders and diseases of the respiratory system. Though the common ailments of the respiratory system are trivial, yet at times they can be life threatening as well.
Common cold, running nose & stuffy nose: Viruses cause colds by targeting the pharynx and the nasal passages. First, the viruses infiltrate the body through the respiratory system. Then, they target the cells in the nasal passage membranes. But before they can destroy the cells, the body’s immune system fights back. The immune system increases the flow of blood to the area. Such reinforcement of white blood cells leads to swelling of the membranes. This causes the stuffy nose. Increase in mucous secretions to neutralize the viral attack leads to the runny nose. Mentionably, the infection can affect the sinuses — membrane-lined cavities located within the head, besides the middle ear and the lower respiratory tract.
Hay fever & asthma: These are allergic reactions of the respiratory system. These conditions are caused when the immune system is irritated by irritants like dust or pollen. The symptoms of hay fever are sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. It is a seasonal reaction when there is abundance of pollens in the air. Asthma attacks are generally mild. But, they can be life threatening too. A person suffering from asthma experiences difficulty in breathing. It occurs as the bronchi and bronchioles get inflamed and remain constricted temporarily.
Laryngitis: Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx. Laryngitis is caused by various factors. They can be diverse like voice overuse, cigarette smoke or viral infection. Laryngitis leaves different effects on the voice. Till the inflammation subsides, it can either get hoarse, or get reduced to a whisper.
Bronchitis: Bronchitis refers to membrane inflammation. The membranes lining the bronchioles or the bronchi get inflamed. Bronchitis occurs due to bacterial or viral infection. Bronchitis can also happen from irritating chemicals.
Pneumonia: This infection of the alveoli is caused by viruses or bacteria. Pneumonia is a potentially serious state of the lungs. In pneumonia the alveoli gets inflamed after fluid builds up. This gathering of fluid and the consequent inflammation impedes the flow of carbon dioxide and oxygen between the alveoli and capillaries.
Tuberculosis: Also known as TB, it is caused by the tuberculosis bacterium. The lungs are primarily attacked in TB. At times, other body tissues also get affected. Unaddressed, the lung infection can even destroy the lung tissues. Earlier, tuberculosis was controlled by antibiotics. However, the bacterium has evolved an antibiotic-resistant strain posing a grave health problem.
Emphysema: This non-contagious disease affects alveolar tissue gets partially destroyed. The remaining alveoli gets enlarged and weakened. During exhalation, the bronchioles collapse. As a result, air remains trapped inside the alveoli. In the long run, emphysema affects the patient’s ability for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. The circulatory system also fails to function. This causes breathing problems. Emphysema can occur due to genetic factors besides infection, smoke, smog, and cigarette.
Lung cancer: The main cancer causing agents are uranium, asbestos, and tobacco smoke. Genetic reasons can also cause cancer. The respiratory cancerous tumors are formed in the lung tissue (alveolar), the bronchioles or the bronchi. Early detection of such tumors can halt their progression to other parts of the body. Then the treatments are more effective, and the prognosis for recovery is rather good. Unfortunately, 85 per cent of the lung cancers are diagnosed at a later stage when the tumors have already spread. In such extreme cases, the prognosis is poor.
Respiratory Distress Syndrome: It is also called RDS. The dysfunction refers to a cluster of symptoms. All point to severe malfunctioning of lungs.
IRDS: Premature infants may suffer from Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome (IRDS). IRDS happens when the alveoli fail to fully expand during inhalation. Alveoli expansion needs a chemical called surfactant. However, among the premature infants, the undeveloped alveoli fail to produce enough surfactant. The common treatment for IRDS is administration of air and surfactant through a breathing tube. This administration enables the alveoli to produce surfactant.
ARDS: Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) occurs when the lungs get severely injured. Many automobile accidents, poisonous gases, or lung inflammation can cause such a dysfunction. ARDS patients generally have to battle for life with 50 per cent survival rate.
ALTERNATIVE TREATMENT FOR RESPIRATORY DISEASES
Many traditional and alternative health systems like Yoga, Ayurveda, Unani and Homoeopathy have various means of treating the different types of respiratory disorders. Yoga has simple breathing exercises called ‘Pranayam’ that have proven track records. The other alternative health systems like Ayurveda, Unani and homoeopathy also have viable strategies to effectively treat the respiratory ailments.
However, prior to taking recourse to any of them, one should consult experts of those systems. Obviously some of the obnoxious habits like smoking and taking of alcohol must be given up to get the optimum results. This holds true for any treatment.