Over the past few years, the massive increase in emissions of air pollutants due to economic and industrial growth has made air quality a major problem in many countries. It is also emerging as the largest environmental problem for the rest of the world, leading to various health problems.
In particular, when you breathe in polluted air, the air pollutants travel deep into your lungs. Therefore, it’s no surprise that air pollution causes serious damage to the respiratory tract.
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution mainly results from human activity from both outdoor and indoor sources. Air pollution, whether indoors or outdoors, contains substances that are poisonous and harmful.
It is a mixture of solid, liquid, and gas particles and may include pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, metals, organic chemicals, and biological materials.
The impact of air pollution on respiratory health depends on the type and mix of pollutants in the air, and the concentration of pollutants that gets into the lungs.
Who is at Risk From The Health Effects Of Air Pollution?
Air pollution can impact everyone on this planet. However, some people are more vulnerable to air pollution than others.
- Pregnant Women: Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, pre-term birth, and an increased risk of developing asthma, rhinitis, and eczema.
- Children: Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution and are more likely to suffer from coughs, wheezing, asthma, and impaired lung function.
- Older individuals: Older people may be at risk due to reduced lung function that occurs with aging and the presence of co-morbid pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions
- People with pre-existing conditions: Individuals with conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart disease may be at risk
How Does Air Pollution Affect Respiratory Health?
Air pollution has both acute and chronic effects on respiratory health, affecting a number of different systems and organs.
Breathing in air pollutants can irritate your airways and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma episodes, and chest pain. Exposure to air pollution puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and in extreme cases, premature death.
The most common upper respiratory tract symptoms after exposure to air pollution include nasal mucosal erythema, sinusitis, nasal itching, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, dry mouth and throat, productive and dry cough, and wheezing.
Seasonal air pollution can be damaging and can cause a severe impact on respiratory health which includes the following
Flu & Viral Infections
Change in seasonal air causes an incessant rise in the number of viral and flu infections.
Experts believe that the PM 2.5 & PM 10 levels which choke up breathable air, result in seasonal infections. It can also lead to a rise in colds, coughs, swine flu, and H1N1 influenza cases. The longer the season, the worse will be the symptoms and risks.
Medical research studies suggest that long-term exposure to seasonal air pollution can cause the growth of certain lung conditions. It contributes to lung cancer and is linked to the development of asthma.
Generally, babies and children’s breathing is faster than older children’s and adults. When such children are exposed to air pollution for a long period, it can hinder their lungs development. Likewise, elderly people are likely to have higher respiratory rates.
If you have an existing lung condition, high levels of pollution can also cause an exacerbation of your symptoms, such as an asthma attack or a COPD flare-up.
Asthma is characterized by a variable degree of chronic airway inflammation, resulting from airway hyper-reactivity, excess mucus production, and reversible broncho-constriction. They cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and dyspnea.
People with asthma may notice they need to use their reliever inhaler more than normal when seasonal air pollution is high. It’s also very important you take your preventer inhaler regularly.
Five Easy Ways To Protect Yourself From Air Pollution
- Use a mask to restrict the intake of toxic air.
- Have a nutritious diet to protect from the adverse impact of pollution.
- Restrict outdoor activities during high levels of pollution.
- Keep the windows open to let the air freely circulate inside your home.
- Plant air purifying plants like Aloe Vera, spider plant, snake plant, and others.
Air pollution is a global threat. It causes millions of human deaths every year and also increases the risks of respiratory diseases.
If you’re exposed to high air pollution levels, you may experience symptoms. These can range from irritating airways to coughing, breathlessness, and so on. In case they occur frequently, then you should visit our pulmonologist for a review.
Also, if you have a pre-existing lung condition, it’s advisable to see our pulmonologist. You can consult our expert pulmonologist online from the comfort of your home without having to face air pollution.