By Juliet Ebirim
Dr, Justine Ihejieto, General Medical Practitioner speaks on the medical and health implications that arise from spending long hours in traffic.
What are the health hazards of spending long hours in traffic?
The health hazards affect virtually every aspect of human life – physically, socially, psychologically and mentally. When you’re stuck in traffic, you are exposed to all sorts of health risks that arise as a result of inhaling fumes from vehicles and exhaust pipes and dust on the road. The longer the period you spend in traffic, the more you’ll be exposed to these health hazards.
For those who are already suffering from some diseases like asthma, stroke and hypertension, it also worsens their situation especially in emergency situations where urgent medical care is needed. If an ambulance is stuck in traffic, the consequences could be very dire, as it will take the sheer grace of God for a patient or victim to make it.
Does it increase the risks of chronic diseases?
As roadways choke on traffic, it is suspected that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks – especially tiny carbon particles already implicate in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments may also injure brain cells and synapses, the key to learning and memory.
To be sure, cars and trucks today generate one-tenth the pollution of a vehicle in 1970. Still, more people are on the road and they are stuck in traffic more often. Drivers annually spend an average of 140 hours, or about the time spent in the office in a month, idling in traffic, a new analysis reported. Long-term stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research on the precise level of cardiovascular risk is limited.
Does it have a lasting effect on the brain?
No one knows whether regular commuters breathing heavy traffic fumes suffer any lasting brain effect. Researchers have only studied the potential impact based on where people live and where air-pollution levels are highest. Even if there were any chronic cognitive effect on drivers and commuters, it could easily be too small to measure reliably or might be swamped by other health factors such as stress, diet or exercise that affect the brain.
Recent studies show that breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in brain regions responsible for behaviour, personality and decision-making, changes that are suggestive of stress. Breathing normal city air with high levels of traffic exhaust for 90 days can change the way that genes turn on or off among the elderly; it can also leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life. And older men and women long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone are often prone to memory and reasoning problems that effectively reduce their mental abilities. The emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and increase the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
How does it affect an individual’s productivity and relationship with others?
Apart from the physical hazards that they are exposed to, there is also the psychological damage too. A lot of people get agitated, angry and disoriented. Even when they get to work, they can’t perform their duties normally due to the stress they underwent on the road. Long delays in getting to and from work is another result leading to less productivity from employees and family crises. There are more cases of accidents because people become frustrated or angry due to the traffic jams. Pollution in the city centre worsens as a result of car emissions. The stress of waiting in gridlock can get intense if you’re in a hurry, leaving you feeling frustrated and anxious about the traffic. That stress can translate into deeper health hazards.
What can be done to curtail these risks?
There is really nothing much for one to do. You can wind up the glasses of your car if it is air- conditioned and listen to soothing music to help relax the brain and nerves. Also, the government and traffic management authorities should help check and reduce some of the causes of these gridlocks.