Air pollution is now the single greatest environmental threat to our health, and the UN estimates nine out of ten people breathe contaminated outdoor air. No wonder the UAE government has made air quality a key issue in the UAE Vision 2021 national agenda, with plans to improve it from the current level to 90 per cent by 2021.
But until then, there is no escaping bad air. Even when it is sunny and clear outside, you might still be dealing with fine dust particulates in the air, Vinod Nair, Head of Digital Appliances Division at Samsung Gulf Electronics, notes that these microscopic particles are the culprits behind many respiratory health issues, including asthma, rhinitis and even the common cold.
If you think you are safer indoors, well, Dr Trilok Chand, Specialist Respiratory Medicine, Burjeel Hospital, asserts that indoor air quality is not only directly affected by outside weather and outdoor air quality, but the excessive use of air conditioning and lack of its proper maintenance make it even worse, with data from the US’ Environmental Protection Agency showing that the air within homes and offices can be between two and five times worse than it is outdoors.
“As summer sets in and makes way for dust storms, residents in the UAE are bracing for another round of allergies, asthma and respiratory disorders,” says T.R. Ganesh, General Manager, Middle East and Africa, Blueair Middle East.
Improving indoor air quality
Since we spend an estimated 90 per cent of our time indoors, improving air quality in the home and office can have a significant impact on our health.
Dr Ali Anwar Mohammad, Specialist Pulmonologist, Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai claims there is a direct correlation between exposure to indoor air pollution and flare-ups of asthma requiring frequent outpatient department visits. He recommends the use of air purifiers to control the levels of small airborne pollutants.
Ganesh agrees, observing that quality air purifiers can clear away dust, allergens and other pollutants such as smoke, odours and pet dander quickly and effectively.
“Air purifiers have emerged as a potent new weapon in the battle for optimal health as individuals seek to ensure their own well-being,” he says.
However, consumers need to keep a number of factors in mind to reap the most health benefits with minimal discomfort. For those with asthma or respiratory allergies, it is important to identify what sets off an attack and steer clear of these triggers.
“Therefore, it is worth taking a few extra moments to find out if an air purifier can filter out a specific trigger or not, as doing so can save you from making an expensive and pointless purchase,” says Ganesh.
In general, for combating pollen, dust, mould, spores, bacteria, microplastics and pet allergens, an air purifier needs to be capable of removing airborne particles down to 0.1 micron. It should also be able to effectively filter viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paints, floor polishes, furnishings and cleaning products.
Dr Ruchika Mukherjee, Medical Director, Cigna Insurance Middle East, recommends getting an air purifier with HEPA filters. “These are considered to be the gold standard in air filters as they can capture particles that are as small as 0.3 microns all while retaining an efficiency rating of 99.97 per cent,” she says, adding that air purifiers may also be beneficial to asthma patients who live with smokers — second-hand smoke worsens asthma symptoms and causes nasal congestion in children. “Since air purifiers are quite efficient at removing smoke from a room, it remains a good option for controlling asthma symptoms.”
Get the most out of air purifiers
Offices, shopping malls and other large indoor spaces can be demanding environments for air purifiers, and Dr Mukherjee insists air filters should be replaced every 6-12 months.
“Over time, dust and debris will build up behind the filters and settle inside your air ducts, putting your employees’ health at even more risk,” she explains.
You can also enhance their effectiveness by using dehumidifiers and air conditioners to maintain humidity levels in the range of 30-50 per cent — this will help keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. And yes, take some of the load off air purifiers by placing plants around the home or office.
Finally, open the windows once in a while to allow fresh air into the rooms. But if that is not possible, you could always step out. “Balance the time spent indoors and outdoors in fresh air,” says Dr Mukherjee.
World Asthma Day is an annual event organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to enhance awareness about the disease and its care