Breathless: How Air Pollutants Affect Your Lungs

Air pollution is one of the primary causes of respiratory illness in the world. It can cause a whole host of health problems and decrease the overall functionality of the lungs. Some effects are almost immediate, while prolonged exposure to high levels of pollutants can cause chronic health issues.

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Who is Most at Risk from Air Pollution?

While any person who is exposed to dangerous levels of pollution are at risk for developing related health issues, some segments of the population are more vulnerable than others. Pregnant women, children, elders, and those who already suffer from cardiovascular or respiratory conditions are more prone to falling victim of pollution-related illnesses. Outdoor workers or athletes are also at higher risk for negative health consequences.

What Upper-Respiratory Conditions Can Air Pollution Cause?

Exposure to particulate air pollution can cause many upper-respiratory system problems. The upper-respiratory includes the windpipe and bronchial tubes, which deliver into the lungs. Unclean air vents, pollen build-up and an overabundance of dust are all common causes of respiratory illness.

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Some of the most common conditions precipitated by exposure to air pollution are aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cystic fibrosis. All of these conditions are potentially life-threatening, and all negatively impact the sufferer’s quality of life and overall health.

What Lung Conditions Can Air Pollution Cause?

Aside from impacting the tubes of air delivery into your lungs, pollution can cause major damage within the organs themselves. People exposed to high levels of pollution may suffer from higher rates of pneumonia, generalized respiratory distress, pulmonary edema (when fluid leaks from blood vessels into a damaged lung), pneumoconiosis (lung damage from inhaling particulate matter) or even cancer.

What Cardiovascular Diseases Can Air Pollution Cause?

Anything that is inhaled can cross the blood barrier through the network of blood vessels within the lungs. Thus, pollution can cause serious cardiovascular problems in addition to respiratory distress. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most common problems associated with living in a highly polluted area.

A potentially deadly event, called a pulmonary embolism, can occur when a blood clot breaks free within the body and is pumped into the blood vessels of a lung. This clot blocks the flow of oxygenated blood from reaching the heart. Exposure to toxic pollutants may greatly encourage this dangerous clotting of blood.

If you live in a highly polluted area, it’s important to seek regular medical care if you begin to experience any respiratory issues. Proper treatment can increase your length and quality of life.

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