Reading Time:

6 minutes

Air Pollution and Respiratory Problems

Air pollution can affect your health, especially your respiratory system. People respond differently to pollution levels, but the impact is higher in some people than in others. The causes of air contamination vary: wildfires, automobiles, manufacturing plants and gas heaters, but all contribute to the rise of pollution levels. 

“Although a number of physical activities (volcanoes, fire, etc.) may release different pollutants in the environment, anthropogenic activities are the major cause of environmental air pollution. Hazardous chemicals can escape to the environment by accident, but a number of air pollutants are released from industrial facilities and other activities and may cause adverse effects on human health and the environment. By definition, an air pollutant is any substance that may harm humans, animals, vegetation or material. As far as humans are concerned an air pollutant may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or serious illness or may pose a present or potential hazard to human health. The determination of whether or not a substance poses a health risk to humans is based on clinical, epidemiological, and/or animal studies which demonstrate that exposure to a substance is associated with health effects. In the context of human health, ‘risk’ is the probability that noxious health effects may occur.”1

The following two aspects can help determine whether the air is contaminated:

  • If the smog level is so high that the fog is discernible due to its coloring.
  • If the air quality is bad (it has particulate air pollution).

“Particulate air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that vary in size, composition, and origin. Because only very small particles can be inhaled into the lungs, U.S. national health standards for the quality of ambient air are based on the mass concentration of ‘inhalable particles’, defined to include particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10µm. Fine-particulate air pollution includes particles with an aerodynamic diameter equal to or below 2.5µm. Whereas larger particles are derived chiefly from the soil and other crystal materials, fine particles are derived primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels in transportation, manufacturing, and power generation. Fine – particulate pollution typically contains a mixture of particles including soot, acid condensates, and sulfate and nitrate particles. Fine particles are thought to pose a particularly great risk to health because they are more likely to be toxic than larger particles and can be breathed more deeply into the lungs.”2

How Air Pollution Affects the Respiratory System?


PM Inhalation
Fig. 1. Potential general pathophysiological pathways linking PM exposure with cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality [3]

The consequences of living in a highly polluted environment are the appearance of conditions, such as dyspnea while engaging in activities that require energy, the inflammation of the upper or lower airways, and breathing problems. The type of pollution and each person’s overall resistance determine if they will experience these conditions or to what extent. 

“The size of particle pollutants is directly associated with the onset and progression of the lungs and heart diseases. Particles of smaller size reach the lower respiratory tract and thus have greater potential for causing the lungs and heart diseases. Moreover, numerous scientific data have demonstrated that fine particle pollutants cause premature death in people with heart and/or lung disease including cardiac dysrhythmias, nonfatal heart attacks, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung functions. Depending on the level of exposure, particulate pollutants may cause mild to severe illnesses. Wheezing, cough, dry mouth, and limitation in activities due to breathing problems are the most prevalent clinical symptoms of respiratory disease resulted from air pollution. Long-term exposure to current ambient particle matter (PM) concentrations may lead to a marked reduction in life expectancy. The increase of cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality are the main reasons for the reduction in life expectancy. Reduced lung functions in children and adults leading to asthmatic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are also serious diseases that induce lower quality of life and reduced life expectancy.”4

The constant exposure to contaminated air may cause serious health issues, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, heart diseases, and bronchogenic carcinoma. Aside from increasing the probability of causing long-term conditions, it can aggravate the health status of people dealing with breathing problems. Those with respiratory conditions, such as asthmatic attacks and various COPDs, are more vulnerable to polluted air. In extreme circumstances, gases and harmful substances in the air can result in hospital admission for treatment and, in certain cases, early death. 


Fig 2. Standard level of criteria air pollutants and their sources with health impact based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency
Fig 2. Standard level of criteria air pollutants and their sources with health impact based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency [6]


Not Only Respiratory Consequences

“Several case–control studies based upon M.I. registries or epidemiological studies with clinical review have found associations between NO2 and fatal M.I. but not non-fatal M.I. Thus far, the finding of associations for fatal MI only was interpreted as an evidence that air pollution particularly affects the frail, or acts to aggravate a disease progression caused by other factors. On the other hand, it is also possible that the outcomes of ischemic heart diseases are misclassified and combined as composite outcomes, where fatal outcomes are captured more precisely. Although there is increasing evidence that air pollution is associated with markers of early atherosclerosis, it is possible that air pollution will affect the underlying biological processes that predispose to atherothrombosis (which leads to MI and stroke) compared to atherosclerosis. Another explanation is that the type of outcomes affected by pollution are those that have higher case-fatality rates (e.g., arrhythmic sudden death has higher case-fatality rate than overall MI).”7

“Two studies have reported significant associations between particulate matter air pollution and dysrhythmia, heart failure and cardiac arrest combined. These results are based upon smaller numbers of events, and require large cohort studies for further verification. The results are consistent with several studies documenting significant associations between short-term PM or NO2 exposure and mortality due to heart failure and dysrhythmia and defibrillator discharges.”8

“Another hypothesized general pathophysiological pathway involves pulmonary and systemic oxidative stress, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and related cardiovascular disease. Over the last few decades, research has linked inflammation along with blood lipid levels to initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. This hypothesis proposes that low-to-moderate-grade inflammation induced by long-term chronic PM exposure may initiate and accelerate atherosclerosis. Short-term elevated PM exposures and related inflammation may also contribute to acute thrombotic complications of atherosclerosis increasing the risk of making atherosclerotic plaques more vulnerable to rupture, clotting, and precipitating acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular events (MI or ischemic stroke). This hypothesis is not independent of the previous COPD hypothesis, because, as noted above, systemic inflammation associated with COPD may contribute to cardiovascular risk.”9

“Biological effects of PM have been observed, and various general mechanistic pathways are proposed, including: (1) long-term exposure results in more rapid progression of COPD, and acute exposure exacerbates existing pulmonary disease; (2) pulmonary and systemic oxidative stress, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and related cardiovascular disease; (3) adverse changes in cardiac autonomic function; (4) vasculature alterations, including vascular tone and endothelial function; (5) systemic translocation of PM and prothrombotic effects; (6) modulated host defenses and immunity; and (7) PM-induced lung damage, declines in lung function, respiratory distress, and hypoxemia. None of these pathways have been adequately or fully explored.”10

“Outdoor PM air pollution is estimated to be responsible for about 3% of adult cardiopulmonary disease mortality; about 5% of trachea, bronchus, and lung cancer mortality; and about 1% of mortality in children from acute respiratory infection in urban areas worldwide. This amounts to about 0.80 million (1.2%) premature deaths and 6.4 million (0.5%) lost life years.11


Excess Deaths from Selected Environmental Factors
Fig. 3. Excess Deaths from Selected Environmental Factors [12]


If the air quality around you is compromised, avoid unnecessary physical exertion in the open air. When you experience difficulties or discomfort while inhaling and exhaling, or pain in the chest, ensure to visit your physician. If air pollution has previously caused you a disease, please adhere to your treatment.



(1) Human health effects of air pollution. Kampa, M. & Castanas, E. Elsevier. 2008.

(2) An Association between Air Pollution and Mortality in Six U.S. Cities. Dockery, D. W., Pope, C. A., Xu, X., Spengler, J. D., Ware, J. H., Fay, M. E., Ferris, B. & Speizer, F. E. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1993. (p.1)

(3, 7, 10) Health Effects of Fine Particulate Air Pollution: Lines that Connect. Pope III, C.A. & Dockery, D.W. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. 2006. (p. 727, 729, 731, 732)

(4, 6) Effects of air pollution on human health and practical measures for prevention in Iran. Adel Ghorani-Azam, A., Riahi-Zanjani, B. & Balali-Mood, M. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 2016.;year=2016;volume=21;issue=1;spage=65;epage=65;aulast=Ghorani-Azam

(5) Atmosphere: Air Pollution–Related Illness: Effects of Particles. Nel, A. SCIENCE Vol. 308. 2005. (p.805)

(8, 9) Long-term air pollution exposure and cardio- respiratory mortality: a review. Hoek, G., Krishnan, R.M., Beelen, R., Peters, A., Ostro, B., Brunekreef, B. & Kaufman, J.D. Environmental health. 2013.

(11, 12) The Global Burden of Disease Due to Outdoor Air Pollution. Cohen, A. J., Ross Anderson, H., Ostro, B., Pandey, K. D., Krzyzanowski, M., Künzli, N., Gutschmidt, C., Pope, A., Romieu, I., Samet, J.M. & Smith, K. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A: Current Issues. 2005.

María Laura Márquez
13 October, 2018

Written by

María Laura Márquez, general doctor graduated from The University of Oriente in 2018, Venezuela. My interests in the world of medicine and science, are focused on surgery and its breakthroughs. Nowadays I practice my more:

299 thoughts on “Air Pollution and Respiratory Problems

  1. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I located it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  2. Great info. Lucky me I recently found your website by chance (stumbleupon).

    I’ve book-marked it for later!

  3. Great site you have got here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days.
    I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  4. Hi there i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anywhere, when i read this paragraph i thought
    i could also create comment due to this sensible article.

  5. Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new project in a
    community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done
    a outstanding job!

  6. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my
    blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme.
    Thanks a lot

  7. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but
    after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.

    Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be
    bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  8. This is really interesting, You’re an excessively professional blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look ahead to searching for extra of your
    great post. Additionally, I’ve shared your website in my social networks

  9. What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively
    helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its
    helped me. Good job.

  10. Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this
    article together. I once again find myself personally spending a
    lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what,
    it was still worth it!

  11. I’m still learning from you, but I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely enjoy reading all that is posted on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I liked it!

  12. Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you
    download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a
    few simple adjustements would really make my blog
    stand out. Please let me know where you got your design. Thanks

  13. Hello There. I found your weblog the use of msn. This is
    a very neatly written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to
    read more of your helpful info. Thank you
    for the post. I will certainly return.

  14. Thank you for another excellent post. Where else may just
    anybody get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing?
    I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such

  15. If some one wants to be updated with latest
    technologies after that he must be go to see this web page and
    be up to date daily.

  16. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is
    totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

  17. Unquestionably consider that that you said. Your favourite reason seemed to be on the internet the simplest factor to keep in mind of.
    I say to you, I certainly get irked even as folks consider worries that they plainly do not
    recognise about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as neatly as outlined out the entire thing with no need side effect , folks could take a signal.
    Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  18. Link exchange is nothing else except it is only placing the
    other person’s web site link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do similar in favor of

  19. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!
    It is the little changes that will make the biggest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

  20. excellent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the opposite experts of this sector don’t understand this. You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  21. Hi there, I found your website by way of Google while searching for a comparable topic, your website got
    here up, it looks great. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hi there, simply became aware of your weblog via Google, and located
    that it is truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels.
    I will appreciate in the event you continue this in future.
    Many other people might be benefited from your writing.

  22. excellent issues altogether, you just won a emblem new reader.
    What may you recommend in regards to your submit
    that you just made a few days in the past?
    Any certain?

  23. Fantastic goods from you, man. I’ve take note your stuff prior to and you’re simply too magnificent.

    I actually like what you’ve bought here, really like what you’re stating and the way through which you assert it.
    You are making it enjoyable and you still care for to
    stay it wise. I cant wait to learn far more from you.

    This is really a tremendous website.

  24. My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a different page and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to checking out your web page yet again.

  25. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself
    or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it
    up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any
    methods to help stop content from being ripped off? I’d
    truly appreciate it.

  26. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I
    submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any recommendations for newbie blog writers?
    I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  27. you are actually a excellent webmaster. The site loading speed
    is amazing. It seems that you’re doing any distinctive trick.

    In addition, The contents are masterwork. you’ve performed a fantastic process on this topic!

  28. excellent post, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You must continue your writing. I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  29. But wanna remark on few general things, The website design and style is perfect, the subject matter is very superb : D.

  30. Stay away from a penalty by filing and paying out your tax through the thanks date, Even though you can’t fork out Whatever you owe.

  31. In legislation, as a way that payment may extinguish the obligation, it is necessary that it be created at a correct time and location, in a correct fashion, and by and to a suitable person.무료p2p

  32. When you pay back your balance in full each and every month, you can prevent paying additional in curiosity on new purchases. As well as, it’s a wonderful way to construct credit rating.소액결제현금화

  33. Hello! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came
    to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers! Wonderful blog and amazing design and style.

    my web site Canadian Solar CS6X-305M Review

  34. On March thirteen, an prolonged clip of the Quetzalcoatlus attacking Kayla’s airplane was released on-line.

  35. The final rule is payment of a debt can not be enforced following a lapse of 6 years, but this era differs beneath unique jurisdictions. A typical method of proving payment is through the production of a signed receipt, but payment can be proved in other ways, and, conversely, production of a receipt isn’t conclusive evidence of payment. Dollars erroneously compensated may be recoverable according to the jurisdiction and whether the payment was built as being a blunder of actuality or as being a mistake of law.Examine This Report on p2p

  36. wonderful submit, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this sector do not realize this. You should proceed your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  37. Get in touch with our automated process to produce a free of charge ACH payment utilizing your checking or cost savings account. You should definitely have your Chrysler Capital account range on hand.코인거래소

  38. Thank you, I’ve just been looking for info about this subject for ages and yours is the best I’ve discovered till now. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

  39. Every person likes a good scenario! What tales is it possible to explain to regarding your company? Talk about stories regarding how you have attended and talk about each and every aspect than it.Consist of testimonials from happy customers who definitely have employed your company acquire trust.

  40. Hello there, I found your web site by way of Google whilst searching
    for a comparable matter, your web site came up, it seems
    to be good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.
    Hello there, simply turned into aware of your blog via Google, and found that it is truly informative.
    I am going to watch out for brussels. I will
    appreciate should you continue this in future. Many other folks shall
    be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!

    Feel free to surf to my webpage …

  41. excellent post, very informative. I ponder why the other experts of this sector don’t realize this. You should proceed your writing. I’m sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

Leave a Reply

If you would also like a response sent to your email please add it in the email box below.