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How Air Pollution Affects Your Health

Last updated Jan. 5, 2018


Air pollution is one the leading cause of premature death ahead of malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

More than 3 million people reportedly die from air pollution in a year, making the problem a global disaster. The most notorious health conditions linked to air pollution include lung problems, asthma, heart diseases, and the onset of diabetes.

Air is life. You have to breathe to live. To live a healthy life, you need to breathe healthy air and this is the opposite of what air pollution is all about.

Many people picture air pollution as black poisonous fumes emanating from factories and power generating sets. While this is not far from the truth, it does not properly capture what air pollution is.

There are different sources of air pollution and each has their impact on the health of humans, animals, and the environment.


Sources of Air Pollution

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While air quality is usually at its worst outdoors, indoor air pollution is also a reality. Outdoor air pollution results majorly from burning fossil fuel to generate electricity and heat for industrial factories and manufacturing plants, and as fuel for cars, trains, planes, ships, and other machinery.

Other contributing factors to outdoor air pollution include second-hand cigarette smoke, bushfire and ash from volcanoes, inorganic fertilizers, and industrial cleaning products and chemicals.

In the indoor setting, air pollution is as consequential as outdoor air pollution. The major sources include gases from burning of household fuels like kerosene and wood, as well as those from household appliances like air conditioners, household cleaning products and chemicals, tobacco smoke, mould and pollen, etc. Examples of such potentially harmful gases are carbon monoxide, CO2, radon, etc.


How Air Pollution Affects Your Health

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Exposure to polluted air has different but related effects on the well-being of individuals. While the effect on healthy adults exposed for a short period may not have any serious long-term implications, individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions may be severely affected by even a small dose of air pollutants.

Infants and elderly people are at greater risk of long-term and short-term problems as a result of air pollution. The various ways air pollution affects your health are as follows:


1. Air Pollution Aggravates Respiratory Problems

For people suffering a form of breathing problem or the other, air pollution has a serious negative consequence.

Since air is breathed directly into the lungs, pollutants will have a lot of effect on the respiratory system, and if there is an underlying condition, it will certainly be aggravated.

Such conditions as asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and chronic bronchitis can all be worsened by air pollution.

Inflammation and narrowing of the airways are the first major consequences of air pollution and they contribute to the previously mentioned conditions. The rising cases of asthma globally, for instance, is strongly linked to the continual rise in air pollution.


2. Increased Risk of Heart Diseases

There have been several reports confirming the link between air pollution and the increasing cases of heart problems.

Though lifestyle choices and the weight of an individual have serious consequences on the condition of the heart, exposure to air pollutants also has a great effect on the heart and the rest of the cardiovascular system.

Areas with a higher concentration of nitrogen oxide, for instance, have a higher rate of death compared to areas with lower concentration.

The increased concentration of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides in the air have been strongly linked with a higher rate of hospital admissions due to heart-related conditions.


3. Increased Risk of Infertility

Recent studies have shown that the long-term effects of air pollution are not limited to the respiratory and cardiovascular system alone but equally, extend to the reproductive system.

A Boston University’s School of Medicine’s study indicated that women that are exposed to fumes from traffic exhaust are more likely to experience fertility issues than women less exposed.

The details of the study highlighted that women living close to a major highway were 21% more likely to experience trouble with conception after having at least one successful pregnancy than women living further away from major roads with traffic.

More research is being carried out to determine just how much air pollution affects the reproductive health of both men and women, but the link is strong enough, already.


4. Increases the Risk of Mental Illness in Children

While it has long been established that air pollution affects foetal brain development, the link between the mental health of children and air pollution was not so strong until recently.

It has now been established that exposure to air pollutants increases the chances of a child or teen suffering from a number of psychiatric conditions.

It has been found that even a very small increase in exposure to air pollution will have a significant effect on the number of psychiatric problems observed in children.

Once again, pollutants from traffic exhaust were the leading cause of the reported cases of mental illnesses in the study group.


5. Air Pollution Increases the Risk of Cancer

There are several air pollutants that are carcinogenic, making air pollution a leading cause of cancer worldwide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that in several cases of lung cancer observed, most were caused by air pollution.

The agency also stated that there is strong evidence linking air pollution with bladder cancer as well.

The sources that emit the highest number of carcinogenic air pollutants include those that involve combustion like tobacco smoke, automobile exhaust, and coal combustion.

Substances like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, nitrosamine, radon, nickel, beryllium and its compounds, etc. are some of the major carcinogens.

There are several other ways in which air pollution can affect human health. Asides from the ones explicated above, air pollution can cause coughing and wheezing, as well as damages to the immune and endocrine system.

Air pollution is also the major factor leading to global warming which increases the temperature of the atmosphere and the chances of heat-related illnesses.

The key to avoiding the consequences of air pollution is staying away from areas with a high amount of air pollution. In your home, you can equally take a step to reduce the number of greenhouse gases emitted from your appliances.

Investing in eco-friendly products like air coolers, for instance, will be a step in the right direction. Their benefits are two-phased as they reduce the temperature and remove contaminants from the air, helping you to breathe fresh, cool air.

If you have any further questions, contact us and we would be happy to help you.

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