7 Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

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Air pollution causes more than just itchy eyes, coughing, and respiratory irritation. It is the leading cause of death of 7 million people every year. 

The effects of air pollution on human health are numerous. Air pollution lowers your quality of life while causing other health issues such as asthma, cancer, and respiratory problems. For many, the damage caused by air pollution is irreversible.

Air pollution doesn’t affect all people the same. Elderly people, children, low-income neighborhoods, and people with existing respiratory issues, diabetes, or heart disease are the most at risk for the effects of air pollution on human health.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a combination of particulate matter like dust, gas particles such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides, and ozone. Many of these are caused by burning fossil fuels, transportation, and ground-level ozone.

Here are the most common effects of air pollution on human health and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Respiratory Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

When it comes to the effects of air pollution on human health, your lungs are the first thing to come to mind. When we inhale, the air around us goes straight to our lungs. 

But it’s more than just clean air that goes into our lungs.

Particulate matter (PM) are small airborne particles of dust, ash, soot, and liquid droplets. When we breathe we inhale many of these particles daily but in small amounts. PM is most common in urban areas and during wildfire season.

Large particulate matter causes nasal and respiratory irritation. Common symptoms are sinus congestion, sinus infection, runny nose, and coughing.

Fine particulate matter can get deep into your lungs and lead to serious health issues. These fine particles cause asthma, bronchitis, strokes, heart issues, and lung disease. If you’re already struggling with a health issue the ultrafine particles can worsen symptoms and even cause premature death.

Healthy people will experience shortness of breath, tightening in the chest, coughing, sneezing,  and a runny nose. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, the air may be to blame.

2. Air Pollution and its Effects on Healthy Active People

The effects of air pollution on human health affect more than just your airways. Over time, exposure to air pollution reduces your heart health no matter how healthy and active you are.

Healthy active adults who spend time outdoors are at risk for higher levels of air pollution. Since exercising causes you to breath faster and deeper, you’ll be inhaling more pollution when you’re outdoors.

The more time you spend outdoors exercising or strenuously working you will notice shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, and tightening in the chest. As you continue to expose yourself to the air pollution, symptoms will worsen and can lead to bronchitis or other respiratory issues.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid excess air pollution and most symptoms are only temporary.

Ozone levels are at their highest in the afternoon. You can avoid air pollution from the ozone by exercising in the mornings or late evenings.

Consider working out inside at home or the gym. Most buildings have an HVAC system that filters out most air pollutants.

If you’re worried about air pollution in your home, click for more information on ways to improve your home’s air quality.

3. Respiratory Issues

Beyond the coughing, nasal congestion, and runny nose, the effects of air pollution on human health leads to some nasty respiratory issues.

The first major symptom is reduced lung function. Healthy people will have temporary symptoms while people with pre-existing conditions can cause their conditions to worsen.

Asthma, chronic respiratory disease, and even cancer can be caused by prolonged exposure to air pollutants such as ozone and ash.

4. Increased Fatigue

The effects of air pollution on human health causes you to feel tired all the time. As your lung function decreases, fatigue and tiredness will increase.

This is due to your lungs not supplying enough oxygen to your body. Air pollution and your body’s reaction to it can obstruct parts of your respiratory system. You’ll be working harder to get oxygen to your body.

5. Chest Pain

Air pollution causes your lungs and respiratory system to feel tight as it works harder to provide oxygen to your body. 

In some cases, healthy people are known to experience nonfatal heart attacks from exposure to severe air pollution. Elderly individuals and those with pre-existing conditions are at greater risk for heart attacks.

The effects of air pollution on human health can cause life-threatening heart attacks and stroke in areas with higher amounts of pollution. When air pollution is high, limit your time outside, wear a face mask, or avoid the outdoors altogether.

6. Infections

Your chances of getting respiratory infections increases when breathing in high levels of air pollution. Air pollution also impairs your body’s ability to fight those infections causing chronic respiratory issues that can lead to permanent damage.

These infections can start as a mild case of acute bronchitis, then progress to chronic obstructive lung disease.

Since your body’s ability to fight off infection is slowed, you’ll feel tired and find the symptoms may feel worse.

If you have an infection or sense a bronchial infection starting, limit your time outdoors, avoid rigorous activity, and wear a mask if needed.

7. Existing Health Issues Get Worse

The effects of air pollution on human health will harm the elderly, children, and people with existing health issues the most.

If you have a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, chronic respiratory

Depending on the severity of your health condition, worsened symptoms may only be temporary. People with serious health conditions or conditions that affect the lungs may experience irreversible damage.

Serious cases of air pollution can lead to the premature death of people with any pre-existing condition.

What You Can Do

Despite the gloom and doom associated with the effects of air pollution on human health, you can take action.

Investing in a quality and up-to-date HVAC system will ensure your home air is safe to breathe. Limiting your time outside when air pollution levels are high will prevent you from experiencing worsened symptoms. If you must go outside, wear a face mask to filter out particulate material.

While it may be difficult to avoid air pollution altogether, there are steps you can take to reduce your intake.

Find more helpful tips on how to improve your health in our latest news articles.