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6th November, 20204 min read

Diwali: How to protect yourself from pollution

Medical reviewer:Healthily's medical team
Author:Katherine Hignett
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Fireworks and firecrackers are a major part of the celebrations for Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.

If you’re planning to use them, it’s important to remember that these impressive displays can lead to harmful levels of smoke and air pollution.

In New Delhi, India, for example — which already has extremely poor air quality — the government has banned the sale of firecrackers and fireworks during Diwali in recent years because of concerns about air pollution.

How much pollution do fireworks and firecrackers cause during Diwali?

When firecrackers and fireworks explode, they send harmful gases like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air. They also release tiny particles (known as particulate matter) that stay in the air and can get deep into your lungs.

These chemicals linger in the air after fireworks have exploded and can raise local air pollution to harmful levels.

What are the health effects of air pollution?

Studies show that breathing in polluted air, even for a short amount of time, may harm your health. For example, it can affect how your heart and lungs function and make asthma symptoms worse.

But air pollution comes from many sources, like road transport and farming, and scientists aren’t sure exactly how much the pollution from fireworks affects the body.

Studies have shown, however, that your exposure to the smaller, more harmful particles is much higher when you’re around firecrackers.

And scientists think that breathing in high levels of particulate matter in this way can affect your health, particularly if you’re a child, elderly or already have a heart or lung condition.

How can I protect myself from pollution?

If you plan on celebrating Diwali with fireworks and firecrackers, or live somewhere where many people will be lighting them, there are many ways you can protect yourself.

To limit the amount of harmful air you breathe, you can:

  • stay indoors and watch fireworks from inside
  • watch fireworks from a distance if you do go outside
  • watch where smoke is blowing and move away from it
  • limit physical activity when outside, as this can make you inhale more deeply through your mouth, which is worse at filtering particles than your nose
  • keep an eye on local air quality alerts to know when to stay inside — alerts vary by country, but they usually tell you when levels of pollutants like particulate matter or sulphur dioxide are above safe levels
  • put air filters in vents in your home to clean the air indoors

What if I have a lung condition?

If you have a breathing condition like asthma, pollution from fireworks, firecrackers and bonfires may irritate your lungs and trigger your symptoms.

Asthma is a condition that causes breathing difficulties like wheezing, breathlessness, coughing and a tight chest. These symptoms happen when the breathing tubes swell up, restricting the amount of air that can pass in and out of the lungs.

A survey by Asthma UK found that 60% of people with asthma reported air pollution giving them symptoms. So if fireworks are a trigger for you, consider watching them from indoors.

Face masks designed to filter out particles (such as an N95 or FFP2 mask) may also help keep smoke out of your lungs.

Don’t forget to carry your medication and make sure the people you are with know how to help if your symptoms get worse. You should also keep taking your regular medication, as this can help prevent symptoms.

Key points

  • fireworks and firecrackers release harmful gases and particles into the air
  • air pollution may damage your heart, lungs and brain
  • it is particularly dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung conditions
  • limit how much pollution you breathe by keeping a distance from smoke and staying inside if possible
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