How Breathing In Polluted Air Affects You?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to health in 2019. Air quality has been a long standing concern in the United States and other parts of the world. It is estimated that nine out of ten people breathes in a polluted air every day.

Air pollution is one of the major concerns across the world due to its serious toxicological impact on human health and the environment. Multiple researchers suggest that air pollution is linked with millions of deaths each year. Air pollution has both short term and long term effects on the health of an individual.

Any agent that affects and spoils the quality of air is known as air pollutants. Air pollution can be defined as the presence of pollutants in the air that we inhale at an extreme level such that it creates negative effects on human health. There are many pollutants present in the air, but six major air pollutants include ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.

It is believed that the primary reason for the change in the atmospheric composition is due to the combustion of fossil fuels, used for the generation of energy and transportation. According to WHO, burning of fossil fuels highly contributes to air pollution.

Also Read: The Recurrent Case of Whooping Cough

Most of the air pollutants share some similarities and can be categorized into four groups:

  • Gaseous pollutants – These pollutants greatly contribute to the changes in atmosphere and the burning of fossil fuel is the main cause of it. It leads to the discharge of nitric oxide which reacts with radicals in the atmosphere and forms nitrogen dioxide, a group of highly reactive gases.
  • Persistent organic pollutants – These pollutants belongs to the group of chemicals which are toxic in nature. Normally, these pollutants reside in the environment but their effect increases when they move up through the food chain, such as pesticides. This occurs when material that contains chronine, such as plastic is burned.
  • Heavy metals – These are the natural components that can’t be destroyed and they include metal elements like lead and chromium. The higher concentration of these metals is toxic in nature as they can increase the concentration of chemicals in the body. There are multiple ways through which these metals can reach an environment such as combustion or discharges of wastewater.
  • Particulate matter – It includes pollutants that are produced by the natural and anthropogenic activities, such as pollution from factories, transportation, and power plants, and are suspended in the breathing air.

Effects of air pollution on human health

The effects of air pollution on human health are both acute and chronic. It affects a different number systems and organs in the body and leads to the development of various health conditions. It affects a wide range of systems and organs such as respiratory system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, nervous system, and urinary tract system. Long term effects of air pollution could lead to the onset of the respiratory infection and increased inflammation.  

As a result of the negative effects of air pollution on health, the following has been observed by multiple researchers:

1. An increase in lung cancer cases

Lungs belong to the respiratory system and play a vital role in the overall functioning of the body. Lung cancer occurs when the cells in the lungs go out of control and lead to the development of a tumor.

Lung cancer is one of the common types of cancer and evidence suggests that air pollution is one of the risk factors for lung cancer. Also, air pollution is not only linked to lung cancer but increases the risk of other respiratory diseases as well.

2. An increase in myocardial infarction cases

Myocardial infarction is a cardiovascular disease which is characterized by the blockage of the flow of blood to the heart. There are multiple causes of myocardial infarction, including air pollution. Air pollution causes changes in the blood vessels which causes angina and myocardial infarction.

Carbon Monoxide in the body reduces the capacity to transfer oxygen. This reduction in the supply of oxygen to various parts of the body, including the heart is the main cause of cardiovascular diseases. Changes in the blood vessels also affect the flow of oxygen to the heart muscles and lead to the occurrence of myocardial infarction.

3. An increase in the cases of gastrointestinal problems

Evidence suggests that air pollution highly contributes to the development of various gastrointestinal problems, including gastrointestinal cancer. Gastrointestinal disease refers to the diseases that involve the gastrointestinal tract in the body. Gastrointestinal tract consists of many organs such as stomach, esophagus, intestines, and many more.

The pollutants in the air increase the risk of damaging the liver cells which increases the concentration of various enzymes in the bloodstream and affects the gastrointestinal tract in the human body. This increases the risk of suffering from gastrointestinal diseases and in severe cases, it can lead to the development of gastrointestinal cancer.

4. An increase in the cases of asthma

Asthma is one of the chronic diseases which affects the airways of the lungs and causes some serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. Asthma is one of the serious conditions which impairs the health related quality of life of an individual.

There are many triggers of asthma and there is no doubt in saying that air pollutants are the most common trigger. When an individual is exposed to air pollutants or any dust particles, he or she is more likely to suffer from asthma. Also, in patients who already suffer from asthma, it triggers an asthma attack which can be serious and can result in death.

Tags:  Air pollution causes, Air pollution effects, Types of air pollution

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Jim Carson

Jim Carson is the writer for the mental health section of He is certified in clinical mental health counselling and has conducted cognitive behaviour therapy for war veterans struggling with PTSD. Professionally and personally, Jim is an astute observer of human behaviour that reflects well in his work.