The Effects of Bad Air Quality (Air Pollution Effects on Humans)

It seems like almost every day you hear about the effects of bad air quality across the world.

And while countries like India and China get the worst reports, the truth is that there are even parts of the United States that have poor air quality as well (i.e. Bakersfield, California and Fairbanks, Arizona).

But what are the top air pollution effects on humans?

Will everyone who lives in polluted cities develop cancer or are there conditions that are less lethal that you can contract by breathing in bad air?

In this post, we’ll answer that question and more.

Below, we’ll go over what the poor air quality health effects you can expect at every stage of life and point out the top pollutants that are causing problems.

So, let’s get into it.

Overall Effects of Bad Air Quality

Air pollution effects on humans vary from person to person and they can range in severity too. Even the healthiest people can experience the worst impact of breathing in polluted air.

The factors that impact how much the air quality will affect you include your general health, the pollutant type, and your length of exposure.

Common health effects include but are not limited to:

Immediate Health Impacts

  • Aggravated respiratory issues and cardiovascular problems.
  • Damaged cells in your lungs and respiratory tract.
  • Increased stress to your cardiovascular and respiratory systems because they work harder to circulate oxygen throughout your body.

Permanent Health Effects

  • Accelerated aging of your lung cells.
  • Decreased lung function and loss of lung capacity.
  • Disease development like asthma, bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, and certain cancers.
  • Reduced life span.

People Most Susceptible to Air Pollution

Unfortunately, some people are much more susceptible to developing health problems from breathing in polluted air.

You can often see symptoms in those people much sooner than you would other individuals.

The people at a higher risk include:

  • Athletes who exercise outdoors.
  • Children under age 14.
  • Elderly and older adults.
  • People with heart disease, congestive heart failure, or coronary artery disease.
  • People with lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or emphysema.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Outdoor workers.

Specific Air Pollution Effects on Humans

The effects of bad air quality largely depend on the specific pollutant you breathe in. Below are the four largest categories that contribute to air pollution.

Ground Level Ozone

Ground-level ozone forms with oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with ultraviolet rays from the sun.

The main sources of nitrogen and VOCs are from trucks, cars, construction equipment, buses, and agricultural equipment.

The afternoon is when ground-level ozone reaches the highest point in the atmosphere and lingers into the early evening hours.

Ground-level ozone is a very strong irritant that can cause your airways to constrict and this makes your respiratory system to work hard to get oxygen in and out.

This type of pollution is responsible for several health issues including:

  • Aggravated chronic lung conditions like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
  • Increased fatigue.
  • Lung damage that lasts after your symptoms disappear.
  • Reduced ability to fight infections.
  • Weakened performance.
  • Wheezing, dry throat, chest pain, nausea, or headache.

If you work in the city, chances are that you’re breathing in ground-ozone on a daily basis. And not all buildings are equipped to filter out ground-ozone pollutants.

One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to invest in a desktop air purifier.

This small machine will work to clean the air around you by removing harmful ground-ozone particles. That way these pollutants don’t end up in your lungs.

The device doesn’t have to be large either. Even a smaller air purifier for office desk can work to keep you healthy. You just need to make sure that it has a particular set of air filters to do the best job.

Take a look at our air purifier for office desk reviews to find a model that’s right for you. It goes over those important filters and offers several recommendations for you to choose between.

Particulate Matter

Particulate matter (PM) comes from a variety of sources and it can contain metals, smoke, sook, sulfates, nitrates, water, dust, and even tire rubber.

PM is also in higher concentrations in cities due to the number of things can can produce it.

However, rural areas are not immune to the presence of PM.

In fact, wildfire smoke which is common all across the world can directly emit PM. It can also form in the atmosphere from natural reactions of gases.

Particle size is directly linked to the severity of health problems.

Fine particle matter causes the greatest problems for your health because they can slip past your body’s natural defenses. This type is commonly known as PM2.5 because this atmospheric particulate matter (PM) has a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers.

PM2.5 can get deep into your respiratory tract and it can affect both your heart and lungs.

Long-term exposure to PM can lead to:

  • Aggravated asthma.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease.
  • Development of chronic respiratory disease in children.
  • Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Nonfatal heart attacks.
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer.

Short-term exposure to PM can lead to:

  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lung irritation
  • Respiratory infections
  • Aggravate lung disease
  • Heart attacks and arrhythmias in people with heart disease.

The best type of air purifier for removing particulate matter is one with a True HEPA filter.

A True HEPA filter is certified to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size which is much finer than PM2.5. To find a high-quality air purifier with a True HEPA filter, check out our top rated air purifiers page. It includes the 10 best air purifiers you can buy today.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Poor air quality health effects also comes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are compounds that can easily convert into gases or vapors. They come from burning fuel like wood, gasoline, natural gas, coal, and wood as well as solvents like adhesives, paints, and air fresheners.

VOCs are also highly common in office buildings and other places of work since many of the building materials, carpeting, and furniture items contain these compounds and it takes several years for them to fully off-gas.

As we mentioned earlier, the best thing you can do to remove air pollutants from your office air is to invest in an air purifier. An air purifier that includes an Activated Carbon filter can extract VOCs from the air you breathe.

As for the short and long-term health effects of VOC exposures, those include:

Short-Term VOC Exposure Symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Irritation to the respiratory tract or eyes
  • Memory problems
  • Visual problems

Long-Term VOC Exposure Symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver
  • Fatigue
  • Irritation to the throat, eyes, or nose
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea

As you can see, the sources of air pollution can vary greatly and so do the effects of bad air quality on humans.

However, poor air quality health effects can be avoided if you use an air purifier in your office and home. By having this device, you can strip the air of pollutants that are known to hurt human health.

We hope you enjoyed this post on the top air pollution effects on humans.