Your Air Quality May Be Causing Serious Health Problems
It might surprise you to learn that the air you breathe is killing you. Breathe in those particles coming from industrial plants and vehicle exhaust fumes and your risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer goes up. Poor air quality has been linked to a long list of health issues including asthma, lung cancer, skin irritation and more.
Poor Air Quality Affects Everyone
Poor air quality is something we all must deal with daily.
It doesn’t matter if you exercise or live an extremely healthy lifestyle – the air quality in your area will still affect the quality of life you lead.
For example, if you live in a big city, chances are good that you’re breathing in high levels of pollution every day.
This can lead to serious health problems, such as asthma and lung disease.
But even if you live in a smaller town, there are still many ways that poor air quality can affect your life.
When you breathe in dirty air, it can cause several health problems, including allergies, asthma and even lung cancer.
Poor air quality has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illness.
This can be because when we inhale polluted air, we are breathing in tiny particles and gases that can irritate our lungs and nose.
These particles can also get into our bloodstream, which can cause further damage to our bodies.
Air pollution can be caused by many things:
- Wildfires and outdoor waste fires
- Exhaust fumes from vehicles
- Industrial waste products like smoke, ash and dust
- Natural sources like pollen and dust mites
- Polluted water sources like rivers, lakes, or oceans
Air Quality Linked to Heart Attacks and Strokes
Air pollution can lead to increased risk for heart attacks and strokes, reports a new study published in the European Heart Journal.
Poor air quality caused by high levels of air pollution may be causing thousands of deaths from cardiovascular problems.
Researchers have examined the relationship between air pollution, known as PM2.5, and deaths from heart attacks and strokes in London over 3 years.
They found that every 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) increase in PM2.5 was associated with an increase in risk for death from cardiovascular disease by 1% for people younger than 65 years old, 2% for those ages 65-74, and 3% for those over 75 years old.
According to the researchers, this equates to approximately 150 deaths per year from cardiovascular disease due to PM2.5 exposure in London alone.
This number is consistent with other studies that have shown similar increases in risk at lower PM2.5 levels (less than 10 μg/m3).
The authors note these findings emphasise how important it is to reduce exposure to particulate matter to prevent death from cardiovascular disease.
Researchers also found that people who live near busy roads or industrial facilities may be more at risk for developing cardiovascular problems due to the increased amounts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in their environment.
These particles are so tiny that they can enter your bloodstream through your mouth and nose after being inhaled.
Children Are Particularly Sensitive to Poor Air Quality
Air pollution is a major global issue with childhood and adult mortality rates affected worldwide.
Children are particularly sensitive to air pollution because their bodies are still developing.
This means they are more likely to suffer from acute exposure to air pollution than adults.
Children’s lungs are not fully developed until they reach adulthood, so they can’t fight off the effects of air pollution as well as adults can.
In addition, children have a higher breathing rate per body weight compared to adults.
This means that they absorb more pollutants into their bloodstreams through their lungs than adults do when exposed to the same level of air pollution.
Young children also breathe much more deeply than adults because they have higher metabolic rates and faster heart rates, which limits the amount of air entering their lungs at one time.
These factors make children more vulnerable to short-term high levels of poor air quality caused by short-term events such as fireworks celebrations.
Children who live near busy roads or industrial sites are more likely to develop asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia, as well as heart disease later in life.
Exposure to air pollution can also affect children’s learning ability leading them to struggle at school or drop out altogether.
The link between poor air quality and health problems in children is well documented by scientific studies around the world.
However, these studies also show that there is an urgent need for governments to do more to protect children from poor air quality and reduce levels of toxic chemicals being released into our environment.
The effects of poor air quality on children include:
- Asthma attacks
- Lung damage
- Respiratory infections
- Increased risk of cancer
Air Pollution Can Make COPD Worse
COPD, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic obstructive lung disease, is a term used to describe progressive lung diseases that make it difficult for a person to breathe.
The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking.
But what many people don’t know is how much air pollution can worsen COPD symptoms.
If you or a loved one suffers from COPD, then you know how devastating this condition can be.
The air pollution that exacerbates COPD is called particulates — microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, soot, and smoke that enter your lungs.
What happens then? Your body reacts by sending fluid to the lungs to flush away the particulates.
But eventually, a person suffering from COPD has less and less healthy lung tissue — along with a chronic cough and shortness of breath.
The only relief from this often-fatal condition is to minimise it with medications designed for COPD.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that air pollution, and the burden of COPD that comes with it, will worsen in the next 20 years unless governments work together to ensure cleaner air and better public health strategies.
The report found that by 2030, more than 1 million people will die prematurely each year due to air pollution.
They also found that by 2050, more than 5 million people will die prematurely each year from exposure to polluted air.
Poor Air Quality Affects People with Cystic Fibrosis
People with cystic fibrosis (CF) have higher rates of hospital admission, worse quality of life and death rates double those without CF.
Poor air quality can aggravate CF symptoms. When you breathe in polluted air, it triggers inflammation of your airways.
That inflammation makes it harder for your body to fight off infections like pneumonia, which is a common cause of death among people with CF.
What’s more, when you’re exposed to high levels of ozone (a pollutant found in smog), your risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans increases significantly — a condition where inflammation narrows the airways so much, they become blocked by mucus or scar tissue.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease of the lungs, digestive system, and other organs.
The illness is characterised by the production of abnormally thick mucus that clogs lung passages, making it harder for people with CF to breathe.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease affecting children and adults worldwide.
Although there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, treatment has improved over the years.
CF affects each person differently because the disease has different symptoms in different organs.
Symptoms vary from mild to severe depending on how many organs are affected by CF.
Some people may have only one or two symptoms, while others may have multiple symptoms which can be very serious.
The most common symptoms are:
- Persistent coughing because of mucus build-up in your lungs
- Frequent lung infections because of the build-up of mucus in your airways (bronchi)
- Salty-tasting skin due to high salt content in sweat (sodium chloride)
- Wheezing or shortness of breath when exercising or when exposed to irritants such as cigarette smoke or cold air
Asthma Can Be Triggered by Outdoor Air Pollution
Did you know that pollen, dust, and other types of outdoor air pollution can trigger an asthma attack?
Pollutants like chemicals, dirt and smog can cause wheezing, coughing and chest tightness.
It is critical to understand how outdoor pollutants can affect your asthma and how to effectively manage your asthma in the face of poor air quality.
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes the airways to swell and become inflamed. It is a leading cause of hospitalisations and deaths among children.
Asthma can be triggered by many things, including allergens, irritants, and infections.
Recently, researchers have found that outdoor air pollution can make asthma worse.
This is something that most people with asthma don’t realise since most of us spend most of our time indoors.
The air quality index (AQI) is used to measure how polluted the air is outdoors. AQI levels range from 0-500+ with an AQI of 100 being considered healthy for sensitive groups like children and the elderly.
The EPA recommends that everyone avoid outdoor activity when the AQI reaches 300 or higher because it’s unhealthy for all.
Research has shown that short-term exposures to high levels of outdoor pollutants can increase asthma symptoms such as wheezing and coughing significantly in susceptible individuals.
Children who already have asthma are particularly sensitive to this type of exposure because their lungs are still developing, making them more vulnerable to respiratory infections.
Air pollution has been linked to asthma incidence and severity in children.
In fact, children who live in areas with high levels of air pollution have an increased risk of developing asthma compared to those who live in cleaner areas.
A recent study found that children living near major roadways were more likely to develop asthma than children living farther away from roadways.
Poor Air Quality Linked to Higher Cancer Risk and Mortality
Poor air quality is more than just a nuisance. A new study examining air quality data shows that traffic-related air pollution is associated with higher cancer risk and even mortality in some cancers.
The researchers found that people who lived in areas with poor air quality were significantly more likely to get lung or bladder cancer than those who lived in areas with good air quality.
Even after adjusting for smoking behaviour, they found that there was still an increased risk of getting these types of cancers among people who lived in areas with poor air quality compared with those who lived in areas with good air quality.
The study also found that people who worked outdoors had an even higher risk than those who did not work outdoors — especially if they worked outdoors where there were lots of cars passing by on busy roads or highways every day.
Researchers found that exposure to the particles emitted by vehicles was linked to higher incidences of lung, kidney, and bladder cancers.
They also found that there was a relationship between an increased risk of death from lung cancer and exposure to PM2.5 — the fine particulate matter that can be inhaled deep into your lungs.
Researchers found that for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of NO2, which is considered an average day, there was a 2% increase in lung cancer risk for both men and women.
A study found people who live near major roads have an increased risk of developing cancer and dying from it compared to people who live far away from major roads.
The findings are based on a study of nearly half a million people in France, where researchers studied cancer risk according to distance from major roadways.
They found that the closer you live to a major roadway, the higher your risk of developing certain cancers and dying from them.
Knowing the effects of poor air quality can help you take action to protect your health.
Air pollution is a silent killer. It can worsen health conditions, affect how you breathe, and increase your risk of getting sick.
The effects of air pollution can be felt by everyone — especially those who work or spend time outside.
Air pollution is caused when contaminants get into the air we breathe, like smoke, soot, and dust.
These contaminants can come from fires, industry, cars and trucks, agriculture, and other sources.
When people breathe in these pollutants, they can cause serious health effects like asthma attacks or make existing conditions worse.
Some people are more sensitive to air pollutants than others — for example:
- People with asthma may have an attack when exposed to high levels of certain pollutants like ozone or nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
- People with heart disease may have chest pain or shortness of breath after being exposed to high levels of particulate matter (PM) from traffic fumes or wood smoke from nearby forest fires.
- Children with chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis or emphysema may become more breathless when exposed to ozone pollution at home or at school.
Poor air quality can harm your health and well-being.
The effects of poor air quality can vary depending on the type of pollutant, the length of exposure, and your age and overall health.
Short-term effects are typically temporary and do not require emergency medical treatment.
Longer-term exposure to pollution may increase your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease or asthma.
The effects of poor air quality can be wide-ranging, from minor irritation to serious illness.
The size of the affected population also has an impact on health outcomes because some pollutants affect certain groups more than others.
For example, older adults are generally more susceptible to health effects caused by poor air quality because they tend to have pre-existing chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to pollution exposure.
The most common symptoms include:
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- chest discomfort
- runny nose
Poor air quality impacts health, especially children’s health. Every day, more people breathe poor air, which risks serious health problems or premature death.
Since we can’t all get out of the city for the weekend, the best thing you can do is to play it safe and make sure that you’re doing what you can to protect yourself from poor air quality.
Wear a mask if you have to and make an extra effort to stay inside on days when the air quality is bad (especially if you have any allergies or pre-existing health conditions).
If you live in a particularly affected area, consider shelling out extra cash to buy a HEPA air purifier—this device works best at absorbing smaller particulate matter (like pollution) because it filters the air through activated charcoal.
And no matter where in the world you live, make sure that you go outside with caution.