Air pollution

What Are the Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health?

More and more people today live in busy cities and towns where they are quite regularly exposed to high levels of air pollution. 

According to the World Health Organisation, 90% of us breathe air that contains high levels of pollutants, whether that’s outside on the street or even within our homes and places of work. What is more concerning is that this constant exposure causes some 7 million deaths around the world each year, according to estimates.

Here we look at how and why air pollution affects our health, what causes it and what we need to be urgently doing about it in the future.

How Does Air Pollution Affect our Health?

Breathing in polluted air frequently and over a sustained period of time can have several long-term and serious health consequences. This is especially true when considering the most vulnerable in society such as children, the elderly and those with underlying chronic health conditions

Not only can air pollution cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, but it has also been linked to several serious health conditions such as heart and respiratory tract disease as well as causing damage to the lungs, reproductive organs, liver, spleen and blood.

Air pollution from factory pipes

Causes of Air Pollution

92% of the world’s population live in an area where air pollution is a problem. This global issue is caused by a variety of pollutants including nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and elemental carbon.  

One of the biggest contributors to air pollution, particularly in busy cities, is road traffic. While many cities have tried to reduce this, the array of particulate matter and harmful chemicals in the air around us still make these dangerous places to live. 

Everything from industry to forest fires, ground-level ozone and general fossil fuel burning all add to the mix. In most cases, we don’t notice that we’re breathing in polluted air and are unaware of the harm that it is doing to us.  

It’s not just outdoors that we are subjected to unhealthy pollutants. Poorly aired homes and exposure to volatile organic compounds from cooking and heating, as well as commonly recognised risky behaviours such as smoking, can all affect health.

Understanding Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate matter (PM) is a wide-ranging term that covers the soot, smoke, dust and dirt that is in the air around us, especially in big cities where many of us live. Smaller particles pose a threat because they are easily breathed in and can accumulate in the lungs and respiratory tract and even get into the bloodstream. 

These particles are termed PM2.5 and long-term exposure can lead to inflammation of the airways, decreased lung function, and an irregular heartbeat. In children, particulate matter has been associated with making asthma worse and causing chronic respiratory disease. 

Even larger particulate matter, such as mold spores and pollen can lead to respiratory aggravation. With climate change, there’s been a rise in higher and longer-lasting pollen counts in various parts of the world including the USA.

What Can Individuals do to Protect Themselves from Air Pollution?

It’s difficult if an individual lives in a busy town or city, for them to find ways to protect themselves from air pollution and reduce the risk. The first thing we can do is not produce harmful air pollution ourselves. 

That could include using our cars (particularly diesel) less or swapping to fully electric or hybrid vehicles. Some people also choose to use power providers that deliver energy through solar and wind rather than fossil fuels. Many may also have a preference of voting for government leaders who are focused on clean air strategies and place this high up on their list of priorities. 

In day to day life, many cities now issue pollution warnings. If the air outside is more toxic than usual, it pays to not go outside and to keep children indoors as well. If someone runs or plays in the park, it’s also a good idea to do this as far away from traffic as possible. 

As we run or exert ourselves, we tend to breathe in more deeply and that can cause greater irritation in areas with high air pollution.

Dirty air vs clean air

What Can Countries and Individuals do to Reduce Air Pollution?

The World Health Organisation has produced guidelines to assist countries and governments in reducing air pollution by 15% over the next few years. 

WHO monitors pollution levels around the world and gathers the scientific evidence that many governments are looking for to back their efforts to reduce emissions and set local and national standards. 

Campaigns such as BreatheLife have also highlighted the impact of air pollution and continue to advocate for urgent change in the future. The objective is to halve deaths from air pollution by 2030 by improving transport, reducing waste and creating homes and workplaces where the air quality is better. 

Some cities now have areas where no traffic is allowed and governments have introduced future bans on diesel and petrol vehicles. In Beijing between 2013 and 2017, they managed to reduce air pollution by 35%.

In many cities and towns around the world, air pollution remains a very serious problem. The evidence now points to this as one of the leading causes of disease and, as the research improves, we’re beginning to see what a huge problem this is. 

It’s up to all of us to make the changes that improve air quality and reduce the impact on everyone’s health.

Pollution, Heavy Metal Contamination and Chelation Therapy

Pollution leads to an increased risk of heavy metal contamination. Heavy metals are environmental pollutants which can enter the body in a number of different ways including via the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat. They can also enter the body by being absorbed through the skin. These toxic heavy metals can have severe and detrimental effects on the human body such as altering the function of organs including the brain, lungs and liver.

An effective method for removing these toxins from the body is known as chelation therapy, a treatment available here at Miskawaan Health.