Walking is a healthy exercise, but walking in various parts of the city when the air is full of harmful fine particulate matter is definitely not!
Is PM2.5 bad for my health and if so, why?
PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. Yes, PM2.5 is very bad for our health! Short term exposure to PM2.5 has been shown to cause many health issues including eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. Chronic exposure can lead to chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies airborne particulates as a group one carcinogen. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to exposure to PM2.5. PM2.5 can impede lung development in children and can leave them with reduced lung function for the rest of their lives. Illnesses caused by PM2.5 kill at least 3.1 million people a year across the world. The WHO estimates that exposure to PM2.5 reduces a person's life expectancy by an average of 8.6 months.
The main reason PM2.5 is so dangerous is due to the small particle size. Airborne particles larger than 2.5 micrometers are also bad for our health, but these larger particles do not penetrate deeply into the lungs and are “washed” out of the lungs by the constant outward flow of mucus and then by coughing and swallowing. On the other hand, PM2.5 particles are so small that they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they are not “washed” out and can continue to accumulate over one’s lifetime. In fact, the smallest of the PM 2.5 particles can actually penetrate into the bloodstream and travel to all the other organs causing immune system damage, disease and even increasing your cancer risks by up to 36%.
What is the best way to protect myself from PM2.5?
When you know levels of PM2.5 are high, you can take these precautions:
- Stay indoors in an area with filtered air if possible. Use whole house HEPA filters or room air purifiers that use either HEPA filters or electrostatic elements.
- Avoid strenuous activity that causes heavier and deeper breathing.
- Wear a properly certified respirator. Many inexpensive disposable masks will only filter out large particulates and will allow the passage of PM2.5 into the lungs. Look for respirators rated as N-95 or P-100 and be sure you have the mask fitted properly. Cloth masks such as scarves are of no help.
Unfortunately, the only way to reduce PM2.5 levels is to stop it at the source - cars, factories, waste burning, fossil-fueled power plants. Until then, stay indoors or strap on the respirators.
Is there anything else I can do to protect myself?
Since exposure to PM2.5 has been shown to cause cardiovascular disease, to be immune suppressive, proinflammatory and cancer inducing, a healthy immune system is one of your best defenses against these disorders caused by PM2.5. Many studies have shown that Stolle modulates the immune system in a positive way which can reduce immune suppression, inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular disease risk factors leading to a lifetime of better health!