Smog kills more than one million Indians every year and Delhi has the worst air of any major city on the planet, the World Health Organization says.
Every November, hospital wards start filling with gasping patients as a tell-tale greyish haze shrouds the city of 20 million.
“Delhi air is like a death sentence for him (Yogesh Kumar),” said Srinivas K. Gopinath, a thoracic surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram hospital in the Indian capital where 29-year-old Kumar was treated for a diseased lung.
Gopinath fears for his patient, who survived tuberculosis but is now at the mercy of another invisible killer.
As cooler air traps pollutants close to the ground, Delhi’s levels of PM2.5 — particles so tiny they can enter the lungs and bloodstream — often soar to beyond 30 times the safe limit.
One of the worst times is around the Hindu festival of Diwali as smoke from millions of crackers set off by festive revelers mingles with car exhaust, factory emissions, construction dust and smoke from crop fires.
Pollution readings can reach so high they do not register on scientific instruments.
Kumar is due to be discharged from hospital around the time of the festival on Wednesday.
“Inside (the hospital) the air quality is maintained, but once he steps out the bad air will start affecting him,” Gopinath told AFP.
“His resistance is weak. He has only one lung which is now really precious. Imagine having to cope up with such bad air with only one lung?”
Children, the elderly and those with respiratory ailments like asthma suffer the most from Delhi’s hazardous smog, which does not lift until around late February. Exposure to toxic air kills hundreds of thousands of children every year, the WHO said in an October report.
Children breathe more rapidly than adults, taking twice as much polluted air into their tiny bodies.