Respiratory diseases and air pollution
Air pollution is a global health crisis that impacts each and every one of us. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost the entirety of the world’s population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits. Many cities across the globe – 6000 cities as of April 2022 – are becoming aware of the issue and have begun monitoring air quality, but, despite this, billions of people around the world are still breathing polluted air1. The health effects of air pollution are many, ranging from increased incidence of allergies to various types of cancer. However, the most common ailment caused by air pollution is respiratory disease. Read below about the dangers of air pollution on our respiratory health and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is respiratory disease?
The National Cancer Institute defines respiratory disease as any disease impacting the lungs and/or other parts of the respiratory system which may include the airways and other parts of the lungs. Respiratory disease can be caused by cigarette smoke (first-hand, second-hand, and third-hand), radon and/or asbestos exposure, infection, and other pollutants found in our air2.
The most common respiratory diseases are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Lung cancer
Asthma and COPD are the two most common respiratory diseases worldwide with asthma affecting 262 million people. COPD was responsible for 3.23 million deaths worldwide in 20193. People suffering from these diseases are much more vulnerable to suffering from the effects of air pollution.
Air pollution’s effects on our respiratory health
We are all susceptible to the dangers of air pollution, whether the exposure is short- or long-term. The gravity of the health effects caused by poor quality depends upon several factors which may include:
- Pollutant type
- Concentration of pollutant(s) in the air
- Presence of indoor pollution
- Proximity of the pollutant
- Season and time of day
- Additional exposure to cigarette smoke (first-, second-, or third-hand)4
Every person who breathes polluted air is at risk of negative health effects and diseases. Some of them are as follows:
While we are all at risk, pregnant women, children, those who are immunocompromised, and the elderly are considered to be the most high-risk groups when it comes to risks posed by air pollution.
For pregnant women, studies have shown that air pollution can affect the foetus at both the cellular and molecular levels, ultimately leading to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight (LBW), preterm birth, and foetal lung defects. These lung defects may cause respiratory disease and reduced lung function later in life. Additionally, when pregnant women are exposed to air pollution, they can transfer pollutant chemicals directly to the growing foetus through amniotic fluid and the placenta5.
Read more about the effects of air pollution on pregnant women here.
There are a few factors in particular that make children more susceptible to the dangers of air pollution, some of which include having a larger lung surface area and spending more time outdoors (thus increasing their exposure). The presence of pollutants in the air augments the severity of respiratory infection, and acute respiratory infections are responsible for a third of all deaths in children under the age of 5. Studies performed in large cities in both Germany and Finland found that exposure to PM and NO2 is associated with an increased number of cases of laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis amongst children. Another study in Nepal found that indoor pollution is linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis in non-smokers of all ages5.
Read more about the effects of air pollution on infants and children here.
In those who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing conditions, especially conditions of the lungs and respiratory system such as asthma or COPD, there is a greater risk of suffering from the negative health effects of air pollution. Extra measures must be taken for these individuals to protect themselves from aggravating their conditions (which may lead to further health issues) including wearing masks and reducing their time outdoors. Unfortunately, knowing that indoor air can be significantly more polluted than outdoor air, these steps will not protect them entirely.
Finally, with the presence of air pollution, elderly individuals are put at substantial risk of poor health as a result. As a person ages, the body’s ability to function progressively declines, particularly in the body’s ability to respond to threats to the immune system such as infection. Each individual’s level of vulnerability may be determined by his or her health history and comorbidity; however, studies on the short-term health effects of air pollution on the elderly population have determined that air pollution causes elderly individuals to have a higher risk of premature death and increased hospital admissions. This is due to air pollution-caused respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia) and exacerbation of chronic diseases. According to these studies, the elderly population is most sensitive to particle matter (PM) pollution than any other types6.
Read more about the effects of air pollution on elderly populations here.
How can we protect ourselves from respiratory disease risk caused by air pollution?
We can all do small things in our everyday lives that can help reduce outdoor air pollution. Instead of taking our cars on short trips, we can ride a bike instead to reduce the emissions caused by vehicles. Quitting smoking and encouraging those around to do so as well is another excellent way to reduce air pollution (read more about smoking’s effect on air quality here). Avoiding burning yard trimmings and trying to use clean forms of heating whenever possible are also good tips.
Sadly, despite our best efforts, the state of our breathing air is not always in our hands. Industry is responsible for a substantial percentage of the pollution in our air. Polluted air from outdoors often enters our homes and workplaces and becomes trapped, resulting in indoor air that is 7-10 times more polluted than outdoor air. The best way we can ensure that we breathe the purest, pollutant-free air in our indoors spaces is by equipping our homes and offices with an air purifier.
Eoleaf air purifiers are high-end devices that come equipped with the most advanced filtration technologies on today’s market. Our HEPA-certified and activated carbon filters are designed to remove the very pollutants from the air that may lead to respiratory and other air pollution-caused diseases, protecting you and improving your health. Reach out today to find the device that best suits your needs.
1 World Health Organization. (2022, April 4). Billions of people still breathe unhealthy air: New WHO data. World Health Organization. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news/item/04-04-2022-billions-of-people-still-breathe-unhealthy-air-new-who-data
2 National Institutes of Health. (2022). NCI Dictionary of Cancer terms. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/respiratory-disease
3 World Health Organization. (2022, May 20). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). World Health Organization. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-(copd)
4 Yang, T., Gong, J., Li, T., & Zhang, K. (2022). Air pollution exposure and respiratory diseases. Frontiers Public Health. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/36582/air-pollution-exposure-and-respiratory-diseases
5 Kim D, Chen Z, Zhou LF, Huang SX. Air pollutants and early origins of respiratory diseases. Chronic Dis Transl Med. 2018 Jun 7;4(2):75-94. doi: 10.1016/j.cdtm.2018.03.003. PMID: 29988883; PMCID: PMC6033955.
6 Simoni M, Baldacci S, Maio S, Cerrai S, Sarno G, Viegi G. Adverse effects of outdoor pollution in the elderly. J Thorac Dis. 2015 Jan;7(1):34-45. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.12.10. PMID: 25694816; PMCID: PMC4311079.
7 Air Pollution. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/air-pollution/