Protection From Winter Pollution


Winter is a good season for many reasons – it is easier to sleep, kids get a month or more off from school, it becomes acceptable to lie in bed all day and some fortunate among us get to enjoy snowfall. But one thing that prevents winter from being great is the pollution it brings. 

The colder months often see an increase in air pollution, due to factors like the burning of wood or coal for warmth, denser and more stagnant air, and smog. Vehicle emissions and industrial activities also contribute to making our air unhealthy (they are a problem year-round, but their effects are exacerbated in the winter due to a phenomenon known as temperature inversion, where a layer of warm air traps cooler air near the ground and prevents pollutants from dispersing). All these can make us extremely sick and give us serious respiratory ailments. That is why it is crucial to protect ourselves and those around us, especially children, senior citizens and those with pre-existing health problems, from this winter pollution.

Given that we spend a significant portion of our time indoors during winter, it is important for us to keep the air inside our homes and workspaces clean. This can be done by using commercial air purifiers, preferably with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, to remove airborne impurities. Admittedly, they can be rather expensive so, if purchasing one is not an option, we can simply keep our windows open. It sounds unappealing during the cold but open windows allow for the circulation of air which, in turn, helps push indoor pollutants out.

The ventilation thing also applies to vehicles. When driving during winter, we should ensure that our vehicle’s ventilation system is in proper working order and is able to circulate the air inside. We ought to regularly replace cabin air filters to maintain optimal air quality inside our cars. We must pay great attention to keeping the air we breathe when in confined spaces healthy.

Another thing we can do to keep our air clean is to opt for cleaner heating appliances. When possible, we should choose electric heating systems rather than coal or briquette to heat our rooms. When burning wood, we can seek out improved stoves that release less smoke and particulate matter into the air. We should never burn garbage or plastic for warmth as the fumes they emit can be toxic.

When going out on chilly days, it is a good idea to check air quality indexes to get a sense of how polluted an area is. This is quite easy to do these days as there are numerous websites and apps that provide real-time air quality updates. We can simply type “Air quality <Name of our city>” on Google to see what the atmosphere is like.

If the air quality is too bad, then we should try to reduce our exposure. This means either not going out or using respiratory protection. Regarding the latter point, using respirators equipped with particulate filters is always best. But, since that is not always available, we can go for the next best things which are face masks with ordinary replaceable filters. They do not cost much, can be bought in any medical store and provide some barrier against direct inhalation of harmful particles.

If we are in the habit of exercising outdoors, we should consider changing it during polluted winters. This does not mean to stop exercising but, rather, to exercise in indoor spaces like gyms or our homes. If we absolutely must go outside, we should do so when pollution levels are lower. Morning walks or jogs are not advisable because when we engage in physical activity, we tend to breathe faster and take deeper breaths. When the air is polluted, this means we will be inhaling harmful particles and gases. Walks during winter pollution will do more harm than good.

But whether indoors or outdoors, it is paramount that we keep ourselves hydrated during the winter. Hydration helps the body flush out toxins and supports overall health. That is why we should drink plenty of water, even though we may not feel thirsty when it is cold. We need to understand that our body functions best when it is hydrated.

Summing up, winter pollution is a real health hazard. But with awareness and proactive measures, we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. By keeping our indoor air clean, monitoring outdoor air quality, using respiratory protection, practising mindful exercise, staying hydrated and choosing cleaner heating options, we will be able to navigate the winter season without succumbing to the bad air it brings. 

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