Smog is not vog
Looking out the window from the sixth floor of a high-rise on a busy Thursday afternoon brought a momentary sense of relief. This was largely brought on by the sight of trees that managed to block the streets below. Imagine waking up the next day to see a less-than-clear view. Upon stepping out of the building, there was a distinct but indescribable scent and the air felt dense.
My chest felt a little heavy and the act of breathing became a conscious effort. Checking for other signs that would prompt even a hard-headed physician to go for a consultation and finding none, I went on to face a full day of work but not without having intermittent thoughts of how we have not only contributed but continuously added to the possible threat of eventually putting a price on something that is for free: the air we breathe.
According to the World Health Organization website, in 2018, ambient (outdoor) air pollution was estimated to have caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide. From that number, 88 percent occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with the greatest number in the WHO Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.” Having written about other public health concerns in the past, it is without a doubt that we are strong contenders to winning a race that nobody wants or wishes to win.
Smog vs Vog. Smog is a term derived from the union of two words, smoke and fog. If you have heard the term “London fog,” it was a crisis in the 19th century brought on as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, largely from coal. The resulting air pollution not only reduced visibility but was a cause of respiratory ailments namely pneumonia and bronchitis and worse, death. Today, what we are experiencing and seeing is more of a photochemical smog which is described as a complex chemical reaction from sunlight, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds generated from daily human activities (use of fuel, paints, etc.) that are present in the atmosphere. Volcanic smog or vog on the other hand, as lifted from the recent infographic released by our colleagues from the Philippine Academy of Pediatric Pulmonologists, “is a visible haze which often smells like fireworks and contains highly acidic aerosols comprising of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants emitted by the volcano. It is an irritant to the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and is known to aggravate preexisting abnormal lung conditions.”
From that same document, in line with increasing the level of awareness that may hopefully promote better health-seeking behavior, adherence to preventive measures, and self-care, it stated the different symptoms that can manifest from vog exposure namely, shortness of breath, cough, headache, low energy level, increased phlegm production, watery, or red eyes and subsequent recommendations in verbatim:
Avoid outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing.
Drink plenty of fluids, maintain adequate hydration.
Avoid tobacco/vape use and exposure.
Stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed to prevent entry of vog.
Set air conditioner to recirculate mode when in use at home or in vehicles.
Always keep emergency and maintenance medications on hand and readily available.
Make outdoor trips quick and wear a high particulate filtration quality face mask like N95 for protection.
Seek medical consultation if you develop symptoms of vog exposure.
There are several things that I would like to point out.
First, before we are subspecialists and pediatricians, we are general physicians and these aforementioned recommendations are not specific to the pediatric population, though children are more vulnerable.
Second, whether vog or smog, both are capable of causing major health concerns that can initiate and precipitate both communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and exacerbate preexisting health conditions.
Third, number seven was written in the context of vog exposure. Nevertheless, the pandemic has taught everyone the value of wearing a face mask as one of the preventive measures in helping prevent the risk of transmitting respiratory diseases, not only the COVID-19 virus but influenza and other viruses that can cause the common cold. Though generally self-limiting, these viruses may be exceptionally dangerous for the vulnerable and the immunocompromised.
In the past weeks, the majority of the consults in the clinic have been respiratory in nature which has caused children to be absent from school. Colleagues have come down from it as well. Yes, it is that season. Stay up to date on your needed immunizations and adhere to basic hygienic practices.
Last but not least, looking at the whole situation, we have to be more conscious about doing our share in curbing pollution, and I am not just speaking of the environmental kind.