There are many chemicals in mosquito coils and long-term exposure to the toxic smoke pose the threat of developing asthma symptoms or far worse, COPD, a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe, Dr. Dushantha Medagedara, Consultant Respiratory Physician, cautioned.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), an obstructive lung disease characterized by long-term poor airflow, is caused by damage to the lungs over many years, usually due to exposure to toxic fumes.
With the dengue menace claiming a heavy toll with 269 deaths and more than 90,000 cases reported over the past seven months this year, people are frantically looking for repellants to keep the deadly mosquitoes at bay. The spike in demand has pushed up prices of products, which are mostly imported, with some brands fetching around Rs. 1,000/- for an 80ml bottle, industry sources said.
With costly imported brands beyond the purse of the average family, the easily accessible, affordable solution has boiled down to mosquito coils at anything between seventy and eighty rupees per pack, they said. "People now tend to light more than one coil in a house in fear of dengue".
"It is more dangerous when coils are lit in a house with the doors and windows closed as there is 40% inhalation of smoke.
At least a window should be kept open if there is a dire necessity to light a coil so that the inhalation level can be cut down by half", Dr. Medagedara suggested.
Describing the growing dependence on mosquito coils as a "disturbing trend", he noted that 10%-20% of the adult population in Sri Lanka suffer from asthma, while 25%-30% children are affected by this chronic lung disease.
Just as much as airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste can trigger asthma, long-term exposure to smoke from mosquito coils is also a primary cause of the disease, he explained. "They can kick start asthma in the system".
Without gradually poisoning the human body by lighting coils, citronella oil can be used to keep away mosquitoes, Dr. Medagedara recommended. "During the night, use a mosquito net".
Millions of mosquito coils are lit on a daily basis, but there is no coordinated data collated to arrive at a specific figure. The sale of coils either by way of ‘singles’ or ‘doubles’ has also made them accessible even to low income groups, while also increasing the risk of asthma and other respiratory disorders across the country’s population, medical sources.
Two million people in Sri Lanka suffer from asthma and annually 1,500 of them die from the disease, they said. "There is growing concern because the disease is increasing particularly amongst children, especially preschool children from urban areas".
"We don’t have any statistics on usage of mosquito coils", says Dr. G. A. S. Premakumara, Director-General, Industrial Technology Institute (ITI).
"We are not strong in research in this particular sphere", he clarified.
In an interesting story headlined "Why The Mosquito Coil In Your Home Might Actually Kill You – A Scientific Report", the Health Beckon website reported: "If you have the habit of lighting mosquito coils every night to wipe out mosquitoes, then hold on. You might as well wipe out yourself too.
"Sounds a bit too sensational, doesn’t it? But maybe it is required. Because that is how grave the issue is. Let’s look at this simple logic. Mosquitoes = living beings. We humans = living beings. If mosquitoes can get affected from the smoke coming out a coil, how can you think you and I can manage to stay hale and hearty?
"Makes sense, right? Having a mosquito coil at home is not as bad as smoking a cigarette. It is as bad as smoking a hundred of them"
by Suresh Perera
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