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Air Pollution and Your Lung Health

By DuPage Medical Group Pulmonary Medicine

In a given day, one will be exposed to millions of different particles in the air. Air particles come in many different forms such as dust, dirt, smoke and liquid. Due to carbon emissions from cars, industrial facilities, power plants, wildfires and more; air particles can become contaminated resulting in widespread air pollution.

Air pollution falls into two categories: indoor and outdoor. Indoor air pollution occurs when you’re exposed to carbon oxides and pollutants carried indoors by dust and can be in the form of mold, pollen, household product, gas or tobacco smoke.  Outdoor air pollution occurs when you’re exposed to the particles produced from fossil fuels, chemical vapors, carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone (smog) and tobacco smoke.

Due to the large variety of chemical exposure outdoor air pollution is higher risk but indoor air pollution can be just as jeopardizing to your health. The health implications from air pollution can be extremely serious. In fact, one third of deaths from respiratory disease and lung cancer are due to air pollution.

How can air pollution harm my health?

The following conditions can be caused, or made worse, by over-exposure to air pollution.

1. Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lung and occurs when your airway becomes swollen, making it hard to breathe. Some of the most common asthma triggers include smoke, pollen and outdoor pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. While someone can develop asthma from genetics or allergies, studies that indicate air pollution as a key cause of asthma are rising in prevalence as asthma has become one of the most common chronic disorders in children. If you have asthma, or are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath or wheezing, a pulmonologist can help you manage your condition.

2. Higher risk of cardiovascular disease

If you currently have heart disease, inhaling air pollution can have an immediate effect on your heart health. Pollutants can cause plaque in blood vessels to rupture and if you’ve been told you have a buildup of fat on your arteries, or atherosclerosis, this may cause a heart attack. In the long term, air pollution has an inflammatory effect on the body and can cause chronic cardiovascular problems that typically begin in your arteries.

If you have persisting symptoms of chest pain or tightness, a fast heartbeat, fatigue or shortness of breath, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. To learn more about our cardiologists, please visit our Cardiology page.

3. Lung cancer

Outdoor air pollution such as smoke and other chemical particles are carcinogens to humans, or in other words, they may be capable of causing cancer. Over-exposure to cigarette smoke and other carbon-based particles increases your risk of developing lung cancer. If you are experiencing a persistent cough, chest pain, hoarseness, throat pain, shortness of breath and/or weight loss, you should schedule an appointment with a pulmonologist. To learn more about our Pulmonary Medicine physicians, please visit our Pulmonary Medicine page.

What precautions can I take?

As an individual, there are several steps you can take to reduce your exposure to air pollution. It is easier to regulate the air you breathe indoors than it is outdoors. The following tips may be helpful for reducing indoor air pollution:

  • Cover trash cans
  • Do not smoke indoors
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors
  • Install exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom
  • Opt for cleaning supplies and air fresheners with minimal chemicals
  • Use an air filter of purifier
  • Remove carpeting, if applicable

To help reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution, the following may be helpful:

  • Avoid burning leaves and trash
  • Carpool when possible
  • Conserve energy (turn off lights when you are not using them, turn down the thermostat, be mindful of water usage)
  • Keep your distance from diesel (trucks, factories, buses)
  • Stay away from the gas pump when refueling your car
  • Track the air quality index (AQI) and avoid exposure when it is at its highest (Normal AQ1 is 51 to 100, High AQI is 150-200)

For more information on air pollution, we recommend visiting the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

To schedule an appointment with one of our Pulmonary Medicine physicians, please visit DuPageMedicalGroup.com/online-schedule/.

Topics and Subtopics: Asthma, General Health & Respiratory Problems

Learn more about:
Pulmonary Medicine
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