How Pollution Affects Humans

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Scientists have been studying how pollution affects our planet for over six decades. By now, in 2023, there are multiple studies connecting how pollution also affects our mental and physical health. Studies even show our poor air quality starts to affect development of an unborn child all the way through adulthood. Hardvard Health says that "The elderly, young, pregnant, or anyone with underlying diseases like a heart or lung condition are at risk" because of air pollution.

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Those With Pre-Existing Health Conditions That Are Affected By Pollution says that some people like those with pre-existing health conditions, like asthma, are more likely to be affected by pollution even on cleaner days.

"Children are more at risk than adults because their lungs are still developing. They also breathe faster, which means they take in more polluted air. Being exposed to pollution as a child increases the risk of developing asthma and COPD as an adult."

  • Air pollution can irritate your airways and increase your lung symptoms.
  • If you have asthma, air pollution can be a trigger.
  • Some types of air pollutants can get deep into the lungs and cause inflammation.
  • When pollution levels are high, there are more admissions to hospital by people with lung conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • here is some evidence to suggest that air pollution could increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

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WebMD says that pollution doesn't necessarily cause allergies or produce an allergen, but rather, just like asthma high pollution levels can irritate ones allergies.

WebMD explains "smog" to be:

"Smog is a type of air pollution that results from a mix of gases and particulates reacting with sunlight. The gases in smog include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as ozone. The particulates found in smog can include smoke, dust, sand, and pollen (which all can make allergies worse)."

A depiction of different gasses that make smog.

"Fumes from cars with gas engines are often thought of as the only major source for smog, but particulates from diesel engines that power trains, large trucks, and some busses also contribute to air quality problems."

To summarise, WebMD also talks about how ground-level ozone is a major contributer to smog.

But, what is ground-level ozone and ozone layers?

To start, explains, "Ozone is a gas composed of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone occurs both in the Earth's upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone can be good or bad, depending on where it is found."

Ozone at ground level is a harmful air pollutant, because of its effects on people and the environment, and it is the main ingredient in “smog.”

Well, then, how does ground-level ozone form?

“(it) is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). This happens when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight.”

“Ozone is most likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments, but can still reach high levels during colder months. Ozone can also be transported long distances by wind, so even rural areas can experience high ozone levels.” (

How can I reduce ground-level ozone levels?


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Developed Health Conditions From Polution also says that "Being exposed to air pollution over a long period of time can cause lung conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)", "Air pollution also increases the risk of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia", and lastly "And there’s evidence that breathing in particulate matter (PM) plays a part in the development of lung cancer."

Some signs you are being effected by pollution are:

  • Coughing more often
  • Diffiiculty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Irritation in your nose or throat
  • Pain when you take a breath
  • Become out of breath more often when doing outdoos activities
  • Finding you lung symptoms worse
  • Having asthma or COPD flare-ups more often
  • Needing to use your inhaler more often if you already have a lung condition

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Air pollution correlates to inflammation in the lungs that can increase the risk of illnesses like Bronchitis (

Pneumonitis says, "Pneumonitis (noo-moe-NIE-tis) is a general term that refers to inflammation of lung tissue. Technically, pneumonia is a type of pneumonitis because the infection causes inflammation. Pneumonitis, however, is usually used by doctors to refer to noninfectious causes of lung inflammation."

"Pneumonitis occurs when an irritating substance causes the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs to become inflamed. This inflammation makes it difficult for oxygen to pass through the alveoli into the bloodstream."

Pneumonitis that goes unnoticed or untreated can cause irreversible lung damage.

Brochitis also says, "Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic. Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking."

"Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, typically the same viruses that cause colds and flu (influenza). Antibiotics don't kill viruses, so this type of medication isn't useful in most cases of bronchitis. The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace also can contribute to the condition."

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The Elderly & Pregnant


María Neira gave a TedTalk called "This is your brain on air pollution" in 2019. During that, she says that the average human breathes in ten thousand liters of air each day. In that, we inhale a mixture of solid particles, liquid droplets, and gas chemicals that may have come from things like household fuel burning, industry, or traffic. The chemicals enter our bloodstream through the lungs and get pumped into our hearts and the rest of our organs.

During pregnancy, a baby relies on the mother to receive oxygen and other nutrients from the placenta. The issue is, now mom has chemicals in her bloodstream that will be transferred over to her baby.

Studies have now shown that this could alter the development of the baby's cerebral cortex on a multitude of levels. After the baby is born, pollution will keep affecting the development which COULD lead to lower cognitive tests, autism, and ADHD.

The adds that air pollution may cause adverse bith outcomes, breathing problems, and decreased lung growth in kids.


The TedTalk also mentions that the affects air pollution has on a child's development could also lead to Alzheimer's, dementia, and Parkinson's because the brain information.

Environmental Health News says “According to the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report, about four in 10 U.S. residents live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution.”

ENH also agrees with the TedTalk that air pollution also causes changes in the brain that increase the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, along with mental illness.

Want to reduce the chances of pollution affecting your family?


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Developed Health Conditions From Polution

Environmental Health News also says, “A large 2019 study of people in Denmark and the U.S. found people exposed to high levels of air pollution are much more likely to suffer from a psychiatric illness such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or personality disorder.”

To add to their study, air pollution can be linked to:

  • Changes in the brain that increase the risks of mental illness, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and learning problems
  • Anxiety and depression
  • A sudden increases in air pollution with more emergency room visits for mental illness among children

ENH also conducted their own survey in western Pennslyvania, where there are a variety of pollutants from mulitiple industries. They say, "Our reporting found that those with the highest level of air pollution frequently face other hardships that negatively impact mental health—like poverty, crime, and racism—and lack access to mental health resources."