Overall Respiratory Health Risks Caused by Air Pollution



How Air Pollution Affects your Lungs

There are several pollutants that affect respiratory health, including, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Ozone, a common pollutant when nitrogen dioxide and sunlight react, as well as particulate matter are “respiratory irritants.” Emissions, distance from the source of pollution, ventilation rates are among factors that can affect personal exposures to complex mixtures. Particulate matter can embed itself deeply in the lungs, and corrode the alveolar wall. This can impair the functionality of lungs.


Diseases caused by Air Pollution

  • Acute Bronchitis

  • Pneumonia

  • Asthma

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Tuberculosis

  • Emphysema

Lung Health Risks for Asthmatics

A study found that young campers with moderate to severe asthma are 40% more likely to have acute asthma episodes on high pollution summer days than on days with average pollution levels.

Ozone, which contributes to “smog” is common in cities with more cars and is more common with low winds and lots of sunlight. Ozone irritates the lungs and airways and is directly related to asthma attacks. Ozone increases the need for asthma drugs and emergency treatment. It is directly linked with asthmatic diseases.

Moreover, airborne particles put people with asthma at great risk. Exposure to airborne particles can reduce lung function and cause more asthma attacks.

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Lung Health Risks for Children

Children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults: their lungs are smaller and still growing, and they breathe air per unit of bodyweight. Adverse health effects can increase the number of childhood hospital admissions, school absences, physician visits for respiratory illness, and deficits in lung growth rates, bronchitis, and chronic cough, as well as increase infant mortality.


Children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults: their lungs are smaller and still growing, and they breathe air per unit of bodyweight.

Air pollution can also reduce lung growth

Long-term exposure to pollution can cause asthma, bronchitis, and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It also makes existing health problems worse, particularly for children with chronic lung disease.

Air pollution is associated with lowered metabolism in children.

According to research published by the NIH, chronic diseases are increasingly affecting the elderly than the younger population. A history of frailty, and pre-existing diseases can affect the health of the elderly. For the elderly, the risks of air pollution compounded with other health risks can be very serious. Globally, the proportion of people aged above 80 years was 14% in 2013, and is expected to reach 19% in 2050. The impacts of air pollution on elderly health are worse in urban areas with poorer air quality as compared with rural municipalities.

The increased pollution exposures increase the risks of death, hospital admissions, mostly because of exacerbations of chronic diseases or respiratory infections. These impacts can be affected by heat.

In a recent study, PM2.5 was found to be more than three times as toxic as PM10, suggesting that fine particulates may cause a public health issue in the elderly, even in low quantities. In a study conducted in Finland, it was found that all particle fractions can adversely affect respiratory health and magnify the risks of pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


How To Protect Your Lungs from Air Pollution


1.     Monitor: UNICEF recommends parents should track air pollution levels in their location on a regular basis. Especially in cities such as Delhi, where pollution levels are very different for different regions of the city and can change quickly from day-to-day, it’s important to

2.     Protect: If you have an existing lung condition, you should take extra caution to protect yourself from pollution, as it can worsen your condition. You can do so by using air purifiers and pollution masks whenever levels are unsafe.

3.     Consult: if you or a loved one is wheezing or coughing, please see a medical professional to check for any respiratory conditions.