12 Jan 2023
What is AQI and how to protect yourself from air pollution
It’s that time of the year again when poor air quality, respiratory diseases, and a rise in hospitalisation increases in most parts of Northern India. While an air quality tracker report by NCAP put India’s capital Delhi as the most polluted city of 2022, poor air is not just restricted to one country. Two days […]

It’s that time of the year again when poor air quality, respiratory diseases, and a rise in hospitalisation increases in most parts of Northern India. While an air quality tracker report by NCAP put India’s capital Delhi as the most polluted city of 2022, poor air is not just restricted to one country. Two days back, most air monitoring stations in Hanoi Vietnam reported an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 201-300. Last month, much of Los Angeles was placed under a mandatory no-burn order due to unusually high levels of air pollution.  

So let’s understand what constitutes poor AQI and how one can stay safe during bad air days.

What is AQI?

The air quality index (AQI) is used for reporting air quality on a daily basis. It is used as a measure to know how air pollution affects one's health within a short time period. The Air Quality Index measures the density of five pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. AQI was established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for which national air quality standards have been established to safeguard public health.  The higher the AQI, the more worried you should be as it affects health. 

Different countries use different point scales to report air quality. For instance, the United States uses a 500-point scale, wherein a rating between 0 and 50 is considered good. Rating between 301 to 500 range is deemed hazardous. India too follows the 500-point scale.

The AQI categories and impacts

The following are the categories of AQI and the subsequent effect on health:

Good (0–50) - Minimal Impact

Satisfactory (51–100) - This may cause minor breathing difficulties in sensitive people.

Moderately polluted (101–200) - May cause breathing difficulties in people with lung diseases like asthma, and discomfort to people with heart disease, children, and older adults.

Poor (201–300) - May cause breathing difficulties in people on prolonged exposure and discomfort to people with heart disease

Very Poor (301–400) - May cause respiratory illness in people on prolonged exposure. The effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases.

Severe (401-500) - This may cause respiratory issues in healthy people, and serious health issues in people with lung/heart disease. Difficulties may be experienced even during light physical activity.

How to stay safe?

  • Stay indoors if you can, with the windows and doors closed.
  • Don’t venture out when the air quality is poor. Keep track of real time AQI updates.
  • Avoid early morning jogs and walks. Alse stay away from strenuous exercises as it affects lungs.
  • To eliminate hazardous particulate substances, try inhaling steam with a few drops of eucalyptus oil every day in the evening.
  • Use an air purifier if you are indoors
  • Put up indoor air purifying plants
  • If you have air conditioning, run it continuously, not on the auto cycle. 
  • Avoid frying food, which can increase indoor smoke.
  • Use masks, either N95 or N99 which can filter out harmful particles.
  • While wearing a mask, ensure it’s snugly fit and don’t touch it often
  • Stay hydrated and follow a nutritious diet
  • Avoid smoking

All these measures will help temporarily. The best way to go about it is to be a part of the solution where you encourage public transport, avoid any kind of burning that leads to dense smoke, and plant more trees that can act as carbon sinks. 

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