How Does Air Pollution Impact Your Health?
Air pollution is a serious global health issue that has resulted in increased morbidity and mortality worldwide. It causes and worsens several diseases ranging from asthma to cancer, pulmonary
illnesses, and heart disease.
Anyone can experience health impacts from polluted air, such as respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties when exercising or doing outdoor activities.
However, the severity of the effect depends on your present health status. In addition, the pollutant type and concentration you are exposed to as well as the length of your exposure to it. Air pollution includes harmful particles or gases in the air we breathe. It is a mixture of hazardous substances in
the air from both man-made as well as natural sources.
Man-made air pollution is caused by human activities and the primary sources include vehicle emissions, fuel oils, coal-fuelled power plants, and fumes from chemical production. Nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter are the main pollutants associated with man-made airpollutants.
On the other hand, natural air pollution is caused by environmental events. The primary sources of air pollution include smoke from wildfires as well as ash and gases from volcanic eruptions. Ozone is one of the most common natural air pollutants.
Air pollution can be invisible to the eyes, and odourless. People who do not realise this may be at a higher risk of developing serious health problems from the unseen gases or particles in the air. Pollution isn’t just found in the outdoors. It also affects the quality of the air we breathe indoors. It is classified into two types, namely, ambient/outdoor air pollution and household/indoor air pollution.
Household air Pollution
Indoor air pollution is the degradation of indoor air quality by harmful chemicals and other materials. It includes dust, dirt, or gases in the air inside a building such as your home or workplace
that can be extremely harmful to us.
It can be worse than outdoor air pollution because closed areas allow potential pollutants to build up more than open spaces. It is one of the leading causes of diseases and premature deaths globally.
Indoor air pollution can be generated through cooking, combustion activities such as the burning of candles, use of fireplaces, use of unvented space heaters or kerosene heaters, and cigarette
This produces a variety of health-damaging pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), methane, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
Ambient air Pollution
Ambient air pollution refers to air pollution in outdoor environments. Poor ambient air quality occurs when pollutants reach concentrations high enough to affect human health and the environment.
Urban outdoor air pollution is a more specific term referring to the ambient air pollution experienced by populations living in urban areas, typically in or around cities. It involves exposures
that take place outside of the home environment.
The most common outdoor air pollutants are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter of different size fractions, and sulfur dioxide.
Exposure to high levels of these pollutants can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes such as the increased risk of respiratory infections, heart diseases, and lung cancer.
Both short and long-term exposures to air pollutants have been associated with health impacts. People with underlying pulmonary conditions are more severely affected by exposure to pollutants.
These particulates may cause respiratory infections, chronic bronchitis, COPD, and the worsening or
exacerbation of COPD.
Nitrogen dioxide causes respiratory infections and deteriorates lung functions, whereas sulfur dioxide contributes to the exacerbation of COPD and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to this,
sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide may cause wheezing and exacerbation of asthma.
Effects of air Pollution on Children
There is a disparity in the impact of air pollution on children and adults as children are more vulnerable to breathing in polluted air than adults.
Consequently, children are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of air pollution because their airways are smaller as their lungs are still developing. In addition, they spend long periods outdoors, engaged in vigorous activities that make them breathe more rapidly than adults.
Also, they breathe through their mouths which lets the air pollutants pass deeper into the lungs. Moreover, air pollution affects children’s lungs both before and after birth. This is because exposure to air pollution can harm the normal growth of the lungs, impacting the function of the womb during
the gestation period of the foetus, and the periods of childhood and adolescence.
Air pollutants have been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature birth and low birth weight. Air pollution can also affect the neurodevelopment and cognitive ability of
children. They may also develop asthma and cancer from inhaled air pollutants.
Exposure to high levels of air pollution can put children at a heightened risk of developing chronic diseases in their later life such as cardiovascular diseases.
Tips to protect yourself from unhealthy air
Individuals can take steps to reduce the risks of adverse health effects of polluted air. Here are some simple but effective tips for protecting you and your family from the dangers of air pollution:
- You should check the air pollution forecast in your area daily so that you know when the air quality is not suitable. This will help you determine when you should take extra precautions.
- Avoid driving to areas known as pollution hotspots like highways and busy roads, especially during peak hours. The further you keep yourself away from traffic, the lower the pollution
- When the pollution level is high, avoid outdoor activities such as cycling and walking and instead go for indoor exercises. Limit the time your child spends playing outdoors when the air quality is unsafe.
- Keep your windows closed when the outdoor air quality is poor and during periods of extreme cold.
- Smoking tobacco is one of the main sources of air pollution indoors. Therefore, avoid or ban smoking indoors.
- Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters or purifiers at home to trap the majority of circulating dirty particles in the air and reduce pollution.
- Keep yourself well-nourished by including fish oil and vitamin C in your diet to avoid and recover from damage caused by air pollution.