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How Does Air Quality Affect Your Health?

Air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to human health. However, sometimes it goes unnoticed, even though it has a huge impact on quality of life and the development of diseases

Woman wearing a face mask

Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: ¿Cómo afecta a tu salud la calidad del aire que respiras?

Inhalation and exhalation are two actions that make up breathing and are performed automatically. Since ancient times, various cultures have been interested in the process of breathing. For example, in yoga, breathing is one of the pillars, which allows you to balance body and mind. Likewise, in moments of fear, anger or stress, it is recommended to pause and breathe slowly. However, the quality of the air you breathe can affect well-being.

The vital process of oxygenating the lungs influences multiple functions of the body, beyond the respiratory system. For this reason, air pollution endangers health and well-being. According to United Nations figures, air pollution causes about 7 million premature deaths a year. "It makes it the greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main preventable causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide," says the organization.

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What are the consequences of breathing polluted air?

According to WHO reports, the damage caused by air pollution to human health has grown rapidly and is generated even by low levels of some pollutants. PM 2.5 are very small particles found in the environment. Although they are not visible to the naked eye, they can cause damage. "Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts. There is emerging evidence that particles impact other organs and also cause other diseases," says the WHO. The most common diseases are of a respiratory type such as asthma.

A study published in the Environmental Health Magazine, conducted by researchers at the University of Malaga, found that air pollution can have an impact on thyroid function. Although the results are not yet conclusive, it found that: "PM 2.5 exposures in the general population were associated with mild alterations in thyroid function." On the other hand, it can cause skin damage, irritate the mucous membranes and favor the development of autoimmune diseases or metabolic syndrome.

In order to raise awareness about the need to act for clean air and increase international efforts to improve air quality, since 2019 the United Nations General Assembly has chosen September 7 as the International Day of Clean Air for a blue sky . In addition, the UN points out that it is also an issue of environmental importance because air pollution negatively affects ecosystems. "Many air pollutants contribute directly to the climate crisis , therefore improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation," he notes.

How to act to take care of air quality?

To achieve pollution-free air, action is necessary at various levels: from the international community, states, companies, and from individuals. Actually, air pollution is preventable. However, governments are required to commit to a more agile transition towards renewable and non-polluting energies. Likewise, better systems for measuring air quality need to be implemented throughout the world,

On the other hand, people can help by avoiding buying products that contain air pollutants, such as certain aerosol sprays or artificial fragrances. Likewise, reducing tobacco consumption and opting for electrical appliances that contain energy-efficient technologies contribute to reducing pollution. Additionally, keeping cars in good condition, preferring to buy electric cars, walking, using public transport or cycling also contributes.

Although it is thought that air pollution only comes from industry, the reality is that many over-the-counter products found in homes can release microparticles that also pollute the environment. An investigation carried out by the Royal College of Physicians on the impact of air pollution found that household objects such as essences, candles or incense sticks are potential sources of pollution . When they interact with fire or ozone they can release toxins. For this reason, it is necessary to find out about the components of fragrances, cleaning products or cosmetics that are in the home.