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How Harmful Is Delhi Air and How Can It Cause Lung Cancer?

When you think about a country’s capital city, you think of over-the-top infrastructure, amazing high-rise buildings, leading facilities, and a premium center of excellence. Somehow, Delhi manages to tick off all those factors except one.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi has an air quality index (AQI) of 383, putting it in the severe category of air quality in an area. Ideally, an AQI of less than 50 is considered “healthy” or “good”.

Doctors pan India suggest that the deteriorating air quality is hands down one of the leading lung cancer causes, a potential hazard that’s only going to get worse over time.

This article will explore more about the harmful air in Delhi and how it is imposing a threat to the lives of people in and around the state.

What are the Main Causes of Toxic Levels of Air Pollution in Delhi?

We all know that Delhi is the capital city, so why is the air quality so low compared to the other metropolitan cities in the country?

Environmental educationists and experts believe that the ever-changing weather conditions in Delhi are making the situation worse.

But, the question of the hours is, “Why is the air so toxic in Delhi?”

1. Crop Burning

Delhi is surrounded by the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, both of which are leading agricultural centers in India. Crop burning, including burning rice stubbles in the states of Haryana, U.P, and even Punjab are contributing to the ever-rising risks of air pollution in Delhi. While the crops are being burnt in the neighboring states, the wind carries these small particles and pollutants and locks them in Delhi’s atmosphere.

2. Increasing Traffic

You can’t just skip out on the biggest contributor to the air pollution in Delhi – the ever-rising traffic. Vehicular emission of harmful air pollutants is the leading contributor to the deteriorating air quality in Delhi, as suggested by CPCB.

3. Changing Weather

Delhi is known for experiencing one of the harshest winters in the country. With the impending winter season, the air particles and pollutants are locked in the atmosphere, keeping them stagnant in its existence, further contributing to the poor air quality in the capital city.

4. Large-Scale Construction

We can’t forget man-made complications and industrialization as a key contributor to the air pollution as well. As more and more factories and industries are set up in Delhi, the emissions from these centers will further contribute to the risks of dust and air pollution in the city.

5. Low Investments in Public Infrastructure

We heavily blame vehicular emission as a leading cause of air pollution in Delhi. However, we need to understand that people often resort to private cars or even cabs because of the lacking public transport infrastructure.

How does Delhi’s Toxic Smog Contribute to Health Deficits?

You’d be surprised to know this not just Delhi but most of the states and cities in Northern India have a poor AQI. Consistent (short or long-term) exposure to air pollution is a leading cause of health complications in people.

The pollutants lead to acute complications like infections, coughing, etc., or chronic complications like asthma, COPD, bronchitis, and even lung cancer.

Some of the common health complications that arise from the toxic smog from Delhi air are:

Lung Cancer

Developing lung cancer due to Delhi’s toxic air isn’t a one-day thing. If you think that you being exposed to the Delhi air once is going to lead to lung cancer, that’s a lie.

However, over time, breathing in the toxic particles in the air can lead to complications of lung cancer in patients. The small particles that are suspended in the air accumulate inside the lungs over time, leading to potential risks of lung cancer.

Generally, the symptoms start with cell damage, followed by inflammation, which then eventually leads to lung cancer. In fact, Dr. Arvind Kumar and his team of lung cancer specialists at Medanta report that several Delhi-based patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer are non-smokers.

This goes to show that breathing in the harmful and toxic air in Delhi is a leading cause of lung cancer in the country.


Besides lung cancer, asthma is the second-most common complication that arises from poor air quality in Delhi. The toxic smog and air in Delhi are filled with pollutants and irritants, both of which lead to cell damage in the lungs.

Not just that, air pollution is also a leading cause of chronic airway inflammation and irritation, leading to symptoms of asthma in people.

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder

If there’s one health deficit that’s concerning right after lung cancer, its COPD. It is a serious complication that leads to severe airflow obstruction and labored breathing capabilities in patients.

Patients with an existing case of COPD or even a new diagnosis can experience issues with breathing due to prolonged exposure to the poor air quality in Delhi. If you are diagnosed with COPD, practicing precaution and taking the medications on time is crucial to prevent exacerbating the symptoms further.

Is there a Rising Risk of Lung Cancer among Non-Smokers in Delhi?

When you think of “What causes lung cancer?”, smoking is generally the first potential cause that one thinks of.

However, a recent study indicates that there is a rise in lung cancer diagnoses among non-smokers in Delhi. The study was coined by surgeons at the Centre for Chest Surgery in Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and the Lung Cancer Foundation.

Although quite an alarming finding, the conclusions from the study indicate a very prominent shift behind the cause of lung cancer in people in India.

According to the study, nine out of ten cases of lung cancer were due to smoking back in 1988. However, by 2018, the ratio has changed to 5:5, meaning that 50% of lung cancer patients are non-smokers.

With the way Delhi’s air quality is deteriorating, it won’t be surprising if things get worse in the next few decades.

How to Protect Yourself from Toxic Air Pollution in Delhi?

Delhi’s AQI is currently in the “red zone” and has been for the last few years. Things aren’t necessarily getting better, so if you want to bypass the risks of lung cancer and other health complications, prevention is the key.

Finding effective ways to prevent smog is crucial to maintaining one’s health and well-being, despite such testing times.

Following are the top ways you can protect yourself from Delhi’s toxic air and prevent risks of lung cancer:

1. Avoid Outdoor Morning Walks

Walking is crucial to one’s overall health and well-being. However, you need to understand that the environment in Delhi does worse than good for your health.

Morning walks and garden exercises first thing after waking up aren’t ideal in Delhi. The vehicular emissions at night and the emissions from factories leave the morning air polluted and in a very bad state.

So, if you want to keep yourself active, switch to indoor exercises instead. Avoid outdoor morning walks or jobs as much as possible.

2. Wear a Face Mask

Wearing a face mask is now very normalized after the Covid-19 breakout. However, if you are in Delhi, wearing a face mask is more than a necessity. Not only does it filter out the small, toxic air particles, but the mask also helps you breathe comfortably, despite the poor quality of the air.

When choosing a face mask for wearing outdoors, pick the ones that can filter out the small particles measuring less than 2.5 microns. N95 and N99 masks are considered ideal for those situations. Additionally, ensure that the mask you are purchasing fits around your face snugly and doesn’t leave openings from the side.

3. Resort to Greenery

The risks of air pollution aren’t just outdoors in Delhi. The toxic air is seeping inside the house as well, leading to elevated risks of lung cancer in people.

If you want to minimize that, get air-purifying plants like Spider plant, Ivy, and Money Plant for the indoors. These are natural air purifiers that eliminate small air particles and keep the air inside fresh and healthy.

Additionally, most of these plants are meant to be grown indoors and they are low-maintenance, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them much.

4. Focus on the Diet

External modifications can help in multiple ways but if you aren’t taking care of your inner health, all those outside boosts won’t do much.

Hence, eating a healthy diet and focusing on your physiological needs is crucial to preventing the risks of lung cancer due to the poor-quality air in Delhi. When crafting your diet plan, include a healthy amount of vitamins, minerals, and micro and macronutrients that your body needs to optimize your immune system.

Include fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and also up your Vitamin C intake because it keeps your lung function at best.

5. Ventilation is Key

Last in the list of effective ways to manage your health despite Delhi’s poor air quality is to focus on your home’s ventilation. Despite the quality of the air outdoors, you want to ensure that your house has maximum ventilation so that the air is dynamic and moving around.

You don’t want the toxic air pollutants to stay localized inside your house where you breathe it every moving second. Instead, keeping the house well-ventilated ensures that you are healthier and are living in a surrounding with favorable air quality.


Delhi’s air quality is worsening with each passing day. With experts, doctors, and researchers concerned about the deteriorating condition, Dr. Arvind Kumar’s advice in the situation is to practice self-prevention. If you are in Delhi and you want to keep yourself healthy, focus on protecting your airways and your overall health with the tips we have shared in the section above. The only thing to pay attention to is to never take a recurring and persistent symptom for granted.

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What in the air can cause lung cancer?

If you are wondering what causes lung infection and lung cancer, it is particle pollution, which is steep in Delhi. It gets worse due to vehicular emissions, factory emissions, industrial plants, the household chemicals we use, etc.

Can poor indoor air quality cause cancer?

Poor air quality inside the house is another common cause of infections and lung cancer in people. It is primarily due to poor ventilation inside the house.

Can air purifiers prevent cancer?

If you live in Delhi where the air quality is disastrous, installing an air purifier indoors might reduce the risks of airway inflammation, respiratory complications, and even lung cancer to a certain degree.

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