The air quality in Delhi is at hazardous levels, leaving Delhi being one of the unsafe cities in India and the world. The worst affected are children and old people. Changing cities is often not an easy or practical solution. But what can be done in order to help our children breathe better air? People walking outdoors with masks on their faces is increasingly becoming a common sight. As Delhi is shrouded in heavy pollution, people are thinking whether pollution masks are a perfect solution for their kids or not?
Pollution masks - the perfect solution?
These days pollution masks are a common norm and a child as young as 2 years old is seen wearing one. Cyclists, pedestrians, traffic police workers and many more have started wearing pollution masks rather than the mere scarves or handkerchiefs, hoping that the masks would safeguard their health. But do these masks really work? Masks are the primary and the most commonly used solution that people can take to ward off the harmful effects of pollution.
What do pollution masks do?
Pollution masks are supposed to filter out certain harmful particles from the air which if inhaled can cause serious lung problems in the near future. If you want a mask to work effectively, you need to buy a well fitted mask for yourself or your child. The masks range from all sizes- large to small, the small ones being for children. The correct size mask should cover the nose, mouth and chin completely without leaving any gaps.
Also read: Doctor Speaks: Solutions To Protect Your Children From Pollution
Do masks block and filter everything harmful and help us breathe fresh air? Yes, upto a certain extent. The masks protect the person against particulate matter. However, they are not very effective against nitrates, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, lead and other gaseous pollutants. There are some masks which work much better than others. The different types of masks available in the market like the N95 and N99 masks are the most effective ones. The pollution levels are extremely high and this makes the masks dirtier sooner than usual. You need to make sure that you change these masks every 3 to 4 days or when you feel that you are not able to breathe as effectively as before. In many cases people have used N95 and N99 masks over and over again and positively benefited from them, but even then masks can only be used till the permissible limit. Once the mask loses its shape and develops leakage, it should be changed.
Are pollution masks very effective?
A study by The Ministry of Health, Singapore shows that N95 masks do provide good protection against particle pollutants as they are at least 95% efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 – 0.3 microns in size.
An N95 mask filters almost 95% of particles larger than 0.3 microns. Alternatively disposable respirators, filter almost 99% of particles thus providing the user with adequate protection but they are costly and not always affordable.
Scientific studies: There are no scientific studies that can actually state that pollution masks are truly the answer for everyone to breathe fresh air. Masks increase the effort of breathing. But then again that happens only if it is an ill fitted mask which reduces the volume of air that is breathed in or give out too much of air because of the loopholes found in an ill fitted lose mask.
Also read: Delhi Pollution : How badly are your kids affected?
Pollution masks- a long term solution?
There are many benefits of wearing a proper pollution mask.
Pollution masks filter the fine particles in the air from reaching our nasal tract and our lungs, which is a huge benefit in the air that we breathe. Keep in mind that the finer the dust particles, the more dense textured the mask should be. Yes, it is difficult for young children to wear masks all day as they may feel uncomfortable or might not be able to play freely. It is always advisable to make children wear their masks while going out of the house. People choose to avoid wearing masks as they think about the discomfort first. Instead, think about how the mask is protecting you and your lungs from rotting. Seeing you wear the mask, the children will definitely follow.
In the long term, wearing pollution mask is not the only solution. With the increase in pollution levels a time might come that even after wearing masks the entire day, you might be breathing in the same polluted air. Measures need to be taken now or else this time will soon come when we feel suffocated in this gas chamber.
Also read: Pollution Related Wheezing – Is your child safe?
Pollution and awareness
Lack of education in India and lack of awareness about air pollution is the reason why many people do not understand the gravity of the situation. People from lower income groups are aware of the rising pollution but not economically strong enough to buy a mask. They take the modes of transport every day and inhale unhealthy air. They just cover their mouths with a handkerchief or dupatta and they are good to go.
Some people, from the middle class and upper middle class think that masks will do no good to them and it is just a marketing gimmick to scare people so that they spend money to buy masks. But wearing a mask now can at least lessen the harmful effects of pollution and can delay the damage that can be done if not wearing one.
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