Who Is at Risk?

Some groups of people face greater risk from air pollution.

Someone in every family is likely to be at risk from air pollution. Does someone you love belong to one of these vulnerable groups?

People with lung diseases such as asthma or COPD face greater risk from air pollution. Here are a few of the threats: shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, and increased need for medical attention and admission to the emergency department or hospital. Breathing some pollutants can even kill—they can shorten life by months to years.

Children and teenagers have lungs that continue to develop until they reach maturity. Children and teens can be more active when they are outdoors, so they may inhale more pollution. Children face greater risk of infection, coughing and bronchitis from air pollution. Growing up breathing high air pollution may even affect how children's lungs develop, putting them at greater risk of lung disease as they age. Learn more about children and air pollution.

Older adults are at increased risk from air pollution. As people age, their bodies become increasingly vulnerable to the assault from dirty air. Many older adults may be active outdoors.  Studies have found older adults face a greater risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems after breathing ozone and particle pollution.

People with a cardiovascular disease or diabetes can be at risk from some air pollutants, especially particle pollution. Breathing particle pollution can shorten life by months to years. Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and increase the need for medical attention, hospital admission and emergency department visits. People with cardiovascular disease also face higher risk from other pollutants, including carbon monoxide and ozone.

People who have lower incomes face greater risk from air pollution. Often they live closer to the sources of pollution, including near major highways or factories. Sometimes they are more likely to have diseases that put them at higher risk. Learn more about disparities in the impact of air pollution.

People who work or exercise outdoors can face higher risk because they spend more time outdoors and their activity outdoors may increase the amount of air they inhale.

People who live or work near busy highways may face greater risk than being in other places in a community. Learn more about the risk of living and working near busy highways.

Page last updated: February 12, 2020

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