Here is an account of the adverse air pollution effects, and what you can do to protect yourself against it.
Here are a few reports that have come out recently about the adverse effects of air pollution which will make you sit up and sniff the air around you apprehensively:
According to a study, living in a major city places people at a higher risk than living in the radioactive zone in Chernobyl.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 2 million premature deaths are caused each year due to air pollution in cities across the world.
A recent study has revealed that exposure to fine particle matter in polluted air increases the risk of hospitalization due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
According to a German study, people who breathe in the fumes of heavy traffic regularly have higher chances of getting hardening of the arteries, which is associated with the risk of heart attack.
A Scottish study has shown that jogging with traffic around results in reduced blood flow to the heart. This is particularly dangerous for people with stable heart disease, because it can trigger off cardiac arrhythmia or even a heart attack.
According to a study conducted on eight-year-olds in Mexico City, being exposed for a long time to high levels of polluted air reduces lung function and growth in children.
According to a 20-year study conducted on the residents of Los Angeles, it has been shown that the adverse effects of air pollution have been grossly underestimated. The researchers opine that chronic health problems due to particulate matter in the air may be double or even triple times greater than the estimates available currently.
So what is air pollution and why is it so harmful? Air pollution is caused when it gets filled with too much gases, particulate matter, and droplets of liquid. In cities, the air gets polluted by the exhaust fumes of vehicles, along with the pollutants given off by construction work and industry. In the country, the dust given off by tractors working on fields, vehicles being driven on gravel or dirt tracks, smoke given off by crop and wood being burnt, and work carried out in rock quarries, are some of the causes of air pollution.
Another major air pollutant in cities is ozone that occurs at ground level. Ozone forms when nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons react with sunlight. However, not everything about ozone is bad. In fact, its presence in the upper atmosphere is beneficial because it keeps out harmful ultra-violet rays, which is one of the major causes of skin cancer. Ozone only becomes problematic when it occurs near the ground where it can be inhaled. When inhaled, ozone causes reduced lung capacity, choking, and coughing.
When the air is polluted, it causes irritation of the throat, lungs and eyes. Some of the common symptoms are: a burning sensation in the eyes, tightness in the chest, and coughing. It exacerbates respiratory conditions like emphysema and asthma, and reduces the body’s capacity to fight off infections of the respiratory system. Also, people afflicted with heart disease, like angina, are usually very sensitive to air pollution. People who exercise outdoors are also susceptible to the symptoms of air pollution, because it involves deeper and faster breathing.
In fact, polluted air is particularly detrimental to those who have lung and/or heart disease. When the pollution levels become very high, it can lead to them having to curtail their activities and even result in hospitalization. Severe air pollution has even been known to cause death in the recent past. However, such high levels of pollution are now not as common in the US.
Another group that is susceptible to the effects of air pollution is children. When they live in areas that have high levels of pollution, children tend to be prone to illnesses like earaches and bronchitis.
Although some groups of people feel the effects of air pollution more acutely, one of the positive factors is that when there is an improvement in the quality of air, the symptoms caused by air pollution are quickly alleviated for most people who are healthy.
The long-term effects of being exposed to low air pollution levels are still being studied.
Here are some of the ways you can prevent the harmful effects of air pollution affecting you and your family:
Try staying indoors as much as possible in the daytime. Usually the air indoors is less polluted than outdoors.
If you cannot avoid going outside, try to do it in the early morning or after sunset. This is particularly important when there are high levels of ozone, which is usually the case in many big cities, because sunshine triggers off the creation of ozone.
When the pollution levels are high, try not to exert yourself. The harder you breathe, the more polluted air you inhale into your lungs.
The above steps should be enough to protect you against air pollution if you are healthy. However, in case you work or live near some source of pollution, or if you are afflicted with chronic lung or heart problem, it is best to seek medical advice on the best ways to deal with it.