Many people know that the air we breathe is important, but why? Air pollution may sometimes be invisible, but it can leave a big imprint on human health. In fact, evidence shows that air pollution can impact human health in more ways than previously imagined.
Two types of pollution are dominant in the U.S.: ozone and particle pollution. Both of these pollutants are tracked in American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report. These two pollutants threaten the health and lives of millions of Americans. How? Here are the "Terrible 10" health risks from breathing polluted air:
- Premature death: Science shows that both short-term and long-term exposure to unhealthy air can shorten your life and lead to premature death. Medical experts have known about this risk for decades —remember our blog about the great smog event depicted in "The Crown"?
- Asthma attacks: Breathing ozone and particle pollution can lead to increased asthma attacks, which can result in visits to the emergency room and hospital admissions, not to mention missed work and school.
- Cardiovascular disease: Air pollution can increase the risk of both heart attacks and stroke.
- Lung cancer: In 2013, the World Health Organization determined that particle pollution can cause lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S.
- Developmental damage: Exposure to air pollution can slow and stunt lung development in growing children, harming their health now and reducing their lung function as adults.
- Susceptibility to infections: Air pollution increases the risk of lung infections, especially in children.
- Worsened COPD symptoms: Exposure to air pollution can make it even harder for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to breathe. Severe symptoms can lead to hospitalization and even death.
- Lung tissue swelling and irritation: Even people with healthy lungs are susceptible to irritation and swelling. For those living with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD, these effects can be especially harmful.
- Low infant birth weight: Some studies show exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of low infant birth weight and infant mortality.
- Wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath: Like many of the other conditions in this list, these can be caused by both long-term exposure and short-term exposure to high levels of air pollutants.
The list doesn't end here. For example, new research is uncovering links between the air we breathe and mental health concerns. The more scientists look at this invisible threat, the more they find that air pollution poses a serious threat to our nation's health.
Our nation has much more pollution to clean up. The Lung Association works to ensure that the air we breathe is clean and safe. Learn more about how polluted air can make you sick and how we are fighting to keep our air and nation healthy.
Blog last updated: August 30, 2023