A few years ago, frightening photos of blackened lungs emerged as lung surgeons tried to get the attention of the country to an urgent problem. As more studies keep coming in from around the world, we are realising the sheer scale of damage done to the country. 98% of children in India breathe unsafe air, as per WHO norms. As they grow, they suffer acute damage as pollutants accumulate in lungs-lung diseases, asthma, allergies, bronchitis, pneumonia, lung damage, reduced lung capacity. Alongside this, the tiny particles (PM2.5) enter the bloodstream and cross into all major organs of the body causing damage that is long-term and irreversible. The list of diseases caused by the inflammation is ever-increasing, from cognitive damage and stunted growth to lifetime risks obesity, heart disease, stroke, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimers, and mental health issues like depression.
Babies in the womb are affected by the pollution the mother is breathing, leading to preterm births, low birth weight and possible birth defects. As mothers learning of these health impacts and seeing that India has higher rates than the world in almost all of them, it motivates us not only when and if our children are sick, but also to worry about their future health. The analogy of air pollution to cigarettes is particularly poignant, when in some cities it is estimated that children breathe in the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day when the smog sets in.