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Air pollution: the silent killer

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Although the pollutants in the air are not always visible to the naked eye, it does not mean that we should ignore their hazardous existence. The severity of air pollution has even “earned” it a nasty nickname: the silent killer.

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that there are approximately 7 million premature deaths annually that are associated with fouled air. It was also reported that 9 out of 10 people worldwide live in a place with poor air quality.

In Cambodia alone, 20,400 deaths were attributed to poor air quality back in 2012. WHO added: “A total of 44% of these was caused by indoor household air pollution. As of 2013, 88% of households used wood, coal, dung, and agricultural products for cooking, with usage rising to more than 95% in rural households.”

This debunks the claims that air pollution only takes place outdoors. While not all air pollutants are harmful, some can take a great toll on your health, especially if you happen to be in one of these groups – older adults, children or people with existing heart or lung disease.

How bad is air pollution for human health?

The answer is very, very bad. According to the WHO, one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.

This is because there is no escaping air pollution. The pollutants are microscopic in size therefore they can easily enter our system when we breathe in fouled air. The more polluted air you inhaled, the more susceptible you are to health problems such as respiratory illness.

Some other problems that can occur include additional pressure on the heart and lungs as they would have to work harder to supply the body with oxygen. Later on, this may result in decreased lung function and capacity, development of other diseases and shortened life span.

Guard yourself against air pollution

It might sound scary but believe it or not, there are a lot that you can do to either minimise the impact of poor air quality on your health or to contribute to a greener planet. Some of the possible actions include:

* Wear a fitted mask when outdoors

You might have seen other motorists and tuk-tuk drivers wearing surgical masks as they go about with their daily routine and maneuvering the heavy traffic. While this is a great idea, you cannot just simply wear any masks and hope that they will work to filter out pollutants. The key here is not really the type, but rather the fit of the mask.

In a 2018 study by the Institute for Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, it was revealed that cheap surgical masks or “makeshift barricades” like a handkerchief don’t do much as air can easily slip through the sides when you inhale.

Opt for a slightly more high quality option like an N95 mask which contour perfectly to your face and can filter up to 95 per cent of pollutants.

* Start a green thumb initiative

This actually would work best for those who are also in search of a new hobby. There are a lot of resources that would recommend gardening as a way to combat air pollution. Why? Not only plants make for a great addition to any home, they also work wonders in cleaning up the air.

According to a study by the State University of New York, there are some plants that are highly efficient at removing pollutants from the air. They particularly recommend a Bromeliad plant which was able to remove over 80 percent of pollutants over the course of 12 hours in the experiment.

* Be more energy efficient

This is more of a prevention method. Regardless, it is an important one as the process to generate electricity and other sources of energy is a big factor that contributes to air pollution. If you practice good habits, you can help do your part in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

Some of the easiest things you can do include replacing existing appliances with energy efficient ones, switching your light bulbs and limiting the use of appliances that require a lot of energy to work such as the traditional oven, air conditioners and water heater.

Remember, there is always more that you can do to protect yourself and loved ones. For an ease of mind, learn more about AIA សម្រាប់ជីវិត (Samrab Chivit), a comprehensive life insurance solution from AIA.

It covers 26 conditions of critical illnesses and medical operations both in Cambodia and overseas. Please contact AIA Client Care service at 086 999 242 for more details.

Sources: Medline Plus, World Health Organisation, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Science Focus, Huffington Post, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Lung Association, Spare the Air.

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