How Is Air Pollution Making You Sick? from How Is Air Pollution Making You Sick?
How Is Air Pollution Making You Sick?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines air pollution as “any visible or invisible particle or gas found in the air that is not part of the natural composition of air.” This is a very serious problem—7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. Few risks have a greater influence on global health nowadays than air pollution; the evidence shows urgent need for action to clean up the air people breathe.
Studies have repeatedly reported increased occurrence of respiratory and sensory irritation symptoms among residents living close to biodegradable waste sites. There is an indirect association between exposure to low-to-moderate air pollution from wastes and symptoms, as well as direct dose-response associations for some of the symptoms.
Several epidemiological studies conducted worldwide have demonstrated consistent associations between short-term elevations in PM and increases in daily cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. One pathway involves the initiation of pulmonary and systemic oxidative stress and inflammation by components within PM. A chain of physiological responses may follow that are capable of initiating heart problems from dysrhythmias and plaque instability to long-term buildup of fat in the artery walls.
By breathing dirty air a person is bringing air pollutants deep into their lungs. Exposure can provoke development or progression of chronic illnesses including lung cancer. Air pollutants also negatively and significantly harm lung development, creating an additional risk factor for developing lung diseases later in life, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Lung cancer is the leading U.S. cancer killer in both men and women.
Acute respiratory infections
Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are the most common cause of illness and death in children in the developing world, according to research. Studies have shown an increase in infant mortality in relation to outdoor air pollution. Air pollutants act as risk factors for respiratory infection. Exposure increases the incidence of upper- and lower-respiratory infections in kids. Levels at which ARI risk increases cannot be determined because complex pollution mixtures are present in the studied urban areas.
Exposure can worsen existing symptoms. A study of young campers with moderate to severe asthma showed they were 40 percent more likely to have acute asthma episodes on high pollution summer days than on days with average pollution levels, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Common outdoor pollutant triggers include ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. It’s also possible for air pollution to trigger new cases of asthma, but this doesn’t happen that often.
In the tiny air cells at the end of the lung’s smallest passageways, air pollution leads to destruction of tissue, or emphysema. The alveoli, or air sacs of the lungs, become damaged causing them to enlarge and burst. The air sacs are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged; damage there causes a buildup of CO2 and makes it difficult for patients to expel air from their lungs.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is characterized by permanent narrowing of the airways. The condition is caused by exposure to pollutants that produce inflammation, an immunological response, according to research. In larger airways, the inflammatory response is referred to as chronic bronchitis. Although current and ex-smokers account for most patients with COPD, exposure to air pollutants plays an important role in the development of COPD and the origin and development of acute exacerbations.
Air pollutants irritate the eyes, especially those that are more sensitive. You can hardly step outside without experiencing red, itchy eyes, even on yellow-air-quality days. People with less-sensitive eyes might only suffer from this irritation on red-air-quality days, but the red eyes and annoyance remain the same, according to Country Hills Eye Center. Most of the time eye irritation clears up as the pollution does. But some studies link high air pollution levels to increased occurrences of dry eye syndrome.
Breathing difficulties during sleep
Air pollution increases the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, according to research. The most serious problems is sleep apnea, in which breathing stops briefly during sleep. Up to 17 percent of U.S. adults have sleep-disordered breathing, but many are unaware they have the problem, according to WebMD. Shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness are common symptoms even among healthy individuals.
Weakened immune system
Air pollution is known to be a source of immediate inflammation. Research has found that exposure suppresses the immune system’s regulatory T cells (Treg), which are responsible for stopping the immune system from reacting to non-pathogenic substances. The decreased level of Treg function has been linked to lower lung capacity. When Treg function is low, the cells fail to block the inflammatory responses that are the hallmark of asthma symptoms.
Damage to the brain
A recent study found, for the very first time, tiny magnetic particles from air pollution lodged in human brains. Researchers think they could be a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The 37 people who were examined in the study aged three to 92-years-old and had lived in Mexico City and Manchester in the UK. The strongly magnetic mineral is toxic and has been implicated in the production of free radicals in the human brain.
Liver and kidneys suffer
Several animal studies have provided strong evidence that air pollutants can induce liver toxicity and act to accelerate liver inflammation and steatosis. Separate research also shows the major role air pollution plays in the development of kidney disease in urban areas. On average, the likelihood of developing membranous nephropathy, an immune disorder of the kidneys that can lead to kidney failure, increased 13 percent a year over the 11-year study period.