Environmental and especially air pollution is not only harmful to nature and wildlife, but also to humans. Here are some examples of the negative effects air pollution can have on our bodies and organs.
Short-term exposure to air pollution
Air pollutants react with UV rays from sunlight to form ground-level ozone, which is the main component of smog. Short-term exposure to pollutants such as ground-level ozone can have negative respiratory effects. The pollutants enter the respiratory tract and can cause severe irritation and infection.
Even short-term exposure to normal air pollution is enough to cause all kinds of respiratory infections that lead to further impairment of lung function. If a person has asthma, short-term exposure to air pollution can cause the condition to worsen.
Long-term exposure to air pollution
Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause more serious health conditions. Some of these conditions, such as the following, can even be life-threatening:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Long-term exposure to airborne pollutant particles can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to WHO, air pollution is responsible for more than 40% of COPD cases and deaths in the world.
COPD is a collection of respiratory diseases that cause breathing difficulties, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These are diseases that block the airways and make it difficult for people to breathe. If left untreated, these diseases can be life-threatening.
According to the WHO, nearly 30% of all lung cancer cases are due to long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution. The most likely cause of lung cancer is particulate matter suspended in the air. Because of their microscopic size, these pollutant particles can easily enter the lower respiratory tract without being filtered out by the body.
Did you know that long-term exposure to air pollution can significantly increase the risk of chronic cardiovascular disease? In addition, high levels of air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes if the person already has severe heart disease.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause pregnant women to deliver their babies too early. Conversely, lower exposure to air pollution reduces the risk of premature birth.
How can you avoid being exposed to air pollution?
If you live in a large urban area, long-term exposure to air pollution can’t be completely avoided. You could, of course, move from the urban area to a more rural area if possible. There are also things you can do to mitigate the effects, such as:
- Wear a respiratory mask when you go outside in areas where there is heavy air pollution.
- Avoid busy roads to reduce exposure to exhaust fumes
- Don’t exercise outside for too long – you can also choose to work out at a gym or sports hall
- Keep up to date with your city’s air quality index and don’t go outside if it’s too high
If you live in a highly developed urban area, you can’t avoid all the risks of air pollution. However, you can minimize the impact by learning about the air quality in your area and avoiding the areas with the most pollution, if possible, or reducing the amount of time you spend there.
Read more on this topic:
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/westernpacific/health-topics/chronic-respiratory-diseases
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health – https://www.mdpi.com/journal/ijerph