Air pollution triggers asthma and respiratory problems: Is it true?


nafas Indonesia





English / Indonesia

The worsening air pollution in the capital city of Jakarta is starting to bother people, especially their health. The mass media has recently been galvanized by the high rate of acute respiratory infections (ARI) in Jakarta.

According to data from the DKI Jakarta Health Office, the total number of ARI cases that occurred from January to June 2023 was more than 638,291. More detail, the number of ARI cases in Jakarta per month was 102,609 in January, 104,638 in February, 119,734 in March, 109,705 in April, 99,130 in May, and 102,475 in June.

What is ARI?

Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) is a medical term that describes a variety of conditions that affect the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs, among other parts of the human respiratory tract. Colds, the flu, bronchitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, and pneumonia are a few examples of illnesses that include ARI.

ARI may become serious, especially in vulnerable groups (individuals with weakened immune systems), such as children, the elderly, or people with chronic illnesses. While some of these illnesses are frequently short-term and heal on their own, in some cases, ARI can be serious.

How does air pollution trigger ARI?

Studies have shown that air pollution can trigger and worsen diseases related to the respiratory tract. For instance, PM2.5 and ozone, toxic air pollutants, can trigger asthma because they irritate the lungs. Certain pollutants can cause oxidative stress, which is a common symptom of severe asthma.

According to Medical News Today, oxidative stress is a condition in which the body has an excess of unstable molecules known as free radicals and not enough antioxidants (substances that prevent cell damage) to eliminate them. This can cause tissue damage in a person's airway, such as inflammation and hyper-responsiveness.

Airway hyper-responsiveness occurs when the airways of a person are overly sensitive to stimuli such as pollutants and constrict excessively in response. Inhaled harmful pollutants may disrupt lung function and make it difficult to take deep breaths.

How is the air quality in Indonesian cities today?

Let's explore the air quality in these cities together!

It turns out that PM2.5 pollution during the first eleven days of August 2023 was observed to be high quite often in the majority of areas in the Nafas sensor network. From top to bottom, the Nafas team tried to rank the cities with the highest air pollution to the lowest air pollution. Based on the graph above, it can be seen that South Tangerang has the worst air quality among other cities installed by the Nafas sensor from August 1 to 10, 2023.

Let's now look at the data from August 8 to August 9, 2023, in the graph below!

If you look at the data from August 8 to 9, 2023, PM2.5 pollution conditions were observed to be high for most of the day. Only a few areas had improved during the day for a short duration. Referring to our study, it shows that there is a potential increase in cases of respiratory diseases in Jabodetabek every day in the last few days.

How long can a person experience symptoms of respiratory illness after exposure to high PM2.5 pollution?

According to Dr. Aaron Bernstein (@DrAriBernstein), a pediatrician who doubles as the Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC), he said in an interview in the Washington Post, "The health effects of air pollution can be noticed hours or days after we breathe it in".

The severity of air pollution affects public health conditions. In fact, some studies show that health risks increase with every 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5.

🚨 Asthma emergency room visits: (Fan et al., 2015)
1. In adults, it increased by 1.7%
2. In children, it increased by 3.6%

🚨 Doctor visits for outpatient allergic rhinitis on the same day increased by 0.47%. (Wang et al., 2020)

🚨 The risk of influenza within 6 days increased by 14.7%. (Zhang et al., 2022)

To provide more data, Nafas conducted a joint study with a local teleconsulting company in June-August 2022. There was an increase in respiratory disease cases in Jabodetabek within 6-17 hours after high pollution:
1. Asthma cases increased 2-times
2. Influenza cases increased 4-8 times

What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

The fear of air pollution may have been felt by all levels of society. That's why prevention needs to be done to protect us from its exposure, especially for people who have a prior history of respiratory disease. Prof. Dr. dr. Agus Dwi Susanto, Sp.P(K), FISR, FAPSR, a Specialist in Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine (Pulmonary) and Chair of the Division of Infectious Disease Management at the Executive Board of the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI), recommends that residents in polluted areas must undergo regular medical check-ups. In addition, do the following tips to help reduce the risk of respiratory diseases due to air pollution:

1. Reduce exposure to pollution by wearing a mask when doing activities outside the home (we recommend using an N95-type mask).
2. Reduce exposure inside the house by closing the vents when pollution is high
3. Strengthen immunity with regular sleep patterns, healthy eating, and exercise when air quality is good