Diseases Caused By Poor Air Quality

Poor air quality is related to the development of various diseases. In the face of contamination it is important to protect one's own health.

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Poor air quality, caused by pollution, is an environmental problem that affects not only the environment, but also people's health. According to the World Health Organization, in 2020 "domestic air pollution caused 3.2 million deaths, including 237,000 in children under 5 years of age." This domestic air pollution can be caused, inside homes, by cooking with open fires or with charcoal, kerosene or wood stoves. Nearly a third of the world population cooks in this way and is exposed to developing diseases due to said contamination.

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However, this type of cooking is not the only way air quality is affected. In cities, air quality is affected by various factors. One of the main ones is vehicular traffic, since car emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, generate highly polluting fine particles. The same happens with industries, which with the use of fossil fuels pollute and worsen air quality. And so, there are a series of activities within urban centers that generate particles in the environment, which have a damage to health and ecosystems. "It is estimated that in 2019 ambient (outdoor) air pollution caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide," according to WHO figures.

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Diseases caused by poor air quality

Prolonged exposure to air pollutants can trigger a variety of diseases and conditions. According to the 2022 World Air Quality Report : “Globally, poor air quality accounts for 93 billion disease days and more than six million deaths each year. The total economic cost equates to more than $8 trillion dollars, exceeding 6.1% of annual global GDP.

  1. Respiratory Diseases: Prolonged exposure to poor air quality can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particles, can irritate the airways, causing inflammation, shortness of breath, and coughing.

  2. Lung cancer: Chronic exposure to certain air pollutants, such as tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter, are associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. These contaminants can damage DNA in lung cells and promote the growth of malignant tumors.

  3. Weakening of the immune system: Pollutants often have toxic substances that can also affect the body's immune system. Among its consequences is that the lungs are more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. However, it can also influence the development of other autoimmune diseases.

  4. Cardiovascular diseases: Long-term exposure to pollution and poor air quality can contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Air pollutants, especially smaller ones, can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation, oxidative damage, and endothelial dysfunction, affecting cardiovascular health. Of the 3.2 million deaths from exposure to air pollution in homes, the WHO estimates that 23% are due to stroke.

  5. Type 2 diabetes: Although there are other factors of greater relevance for the development of diabetes, prolonged exposure to air pollutants could also influence the development of type 2 diabetes. According to the Journal of Diabetes, polluting particles cause "oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, subclinical inflammation, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, prothrombotic phenomena and epigenetic alterations, among others”. For this reason, they influence the development of diseases such as diabetes.

  6. Allergic problems: Poor air quality can trigger or worsen the symptoms of respiratory allergies, such as allergic rhinitis. Likewise, poor air quality can cause bothersome symptoms such as eye or skin irritation.

How to protect yourself from poor air quality?

To protect yourself from poor air quality, it's important to stay informed about the state of air quality where you live. Use mobile apps or websites that provide up-to-date information on pollution levels and related health recommendations. Likewise, it is necessary to avoid exposure to contamination, such as traffic, smoke or burning materials. If you live in an area with these characteristics, limit your outdoor activities during these times and look for options in closed spaces with good ventilation.

On the other hand, if you live in a city with poor air quality, you may want to consider installing air purifiers in your home. Also, avoid smoking, as tobacco smoke worsens air quality and increases the risk of respiratory problems. The same is true of certain artificial fragrances, which have toxic components.

On the other hand, in areas with high air pollution, consider the use of masks to reduce the inhalation of pollutants. This is especially relevant if you already have a respiratory disease such as asthma. Furthermore, maintain a clean indoor environment through frequent cleaning, dust control, and adequate ventilation. Also, help improve air quality by adopting sustainable practices, such as using public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking instead of driving. Support policies and regulations that promote the reduction of polluting emissions.

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