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[Weekender] What fine dust does to human body

The South Korean public is more sensitive to air quality these days, in light of increasing news reports on the negative impacts of fine dust and with a slew of released apps that send almost real-time updates on the concentration of harmful particles. 

So how bad is fine dust to one’s health?

Fine dust particles do not just cause respiratory problems such as bronchial and asthmatic diseases, they also increase the chance of cerebrovascular diseases, according to the Korean Medical Association.

Fine dust can also cause conjunctivitis, making eyes itchy and leading to more eye mucus and red eyes. 

It can also cause skin rashes as the toxic substances contained in fine dust can promote the release of pro-inflammatory cytokine, causing an increase in white blood cells which lead to an allergic reaction.

Recent studies have also shown that air pollution may worsen mental diseases such as depression and dementia.

According to Samsung Medical Center’s research over the last six years, there was a 10 percent higher risk of suicide attempts during days with severe fine dust concentrations.

Members of Korea Federation for Environmental Movements hold a performance calling for fundamental measures to tackle fine dust problem at Gwanghwamun in Seoul on June 13. (Yonhap)
Members of Korea Federation for Environmental Movements hold a performance calling for fundamental measures to tackle fine dust problem at Gwanghwamun in Seoul on June 13. (Yonhap)

When fine dust enters the bloodstream via the lungs, it can cause infection in the human brain and influence how neurotransmitters work, SMC data said. This could also worsen symptoms of those suffering chronic diseases such as heart disease and respiratory disease, thereby exposing them to depression.

Fine dust particles are not only considered dangerous to chronically ill patients but also young children and the elderly, especially to their respiratory system.

Experts say that fine dust that enters the human body tends to cause different symptoms depending on the aerodynamic diameter of the particles. The smaller the diameter, the deeper the particle can infiltrate into organ systems and the higher the potential toxicity. 

Since the amount of airborne particles that enter the body is directly proportional to the amount of time spent outside, it is best to stay indoors when the fine dust concentrations are high.
When heading out, it is also important to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a mask to minimize skin exposure to pollutants.
Upon returning home, showering can help remove the dust. Washing your face, brushing your teeth and using eye drops will help keep your mucous membranes clean.

Wearing glasses instead of contact lenses can also help. 

When you are dehydrated, the mucous membranes in your respiratory system become less effective, allowing dust particles to enter the body more easily. 

So drinking enough water helps prevent dust from entering your body. At the same time, it also helps the body remove the toxic substances through sweat or urine.

Consuming a lot of fruit and vegetables can also help the body deal with the negative effects of fine dust. 

Using an air purifier can also prevent respiratory disease and exposure to fine dust particles, however, such an option should not be depended on too heavily. Without proper ventilation and cleaning of your home, it would not be effective in reducing exposure to dust particles. It is also necessary to change the filter on your air purifier frequently.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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