The Impact of Air Quality on Your Health

Table of Contents

Why Should You Care about Air Quality?

About six billion people worldwide breathe polluted air every day. It seems normal to most people that the air around them is dusty, smoky, or smells weird. But, having poor air quality can cause lots of problems for you and our planet.

Clean air with lower levels of pollutants plays a vital role in having a healthier life. Good air quality supports your respiratory and cardiovascular health and reduces your exposure to harmful air pollutants and airborne viruses. As a result, air quality has a direct impact on our collective and individual wellbeing, which highlights the necessity to restore and protect clean air.  

Healthy air quality helps sustain our natural ecosystems. However, when pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, ozone, and carbon monoxide are released into the atmosphere, our ecosystems and the living organisms in them suffer. In other words, air quality is crucial in protecting our environmental life and health. 

Vulnerable Populations

Those most vulnerable to air pollution are children, elderly adults, and people with respiratory problems or cardiovascular diseases. 

Growing up with poor air quality can cause health problems for the rest of the child’s life. Since children and older adults spend more time outside, they’re more likely to be exposed. Older adults can also have undetected health problems affecting their lungs or heart. 

Symptoms of Exposure

Being aware of air pollutants in your environment can help you make informed decisions to safeguard your health. This is especially important if you or your close ones are part of the vulnerable groups to air pollution.

Different air pollutants have varying effects on your respiratory and cardiovascular health. For example, exposure to both particulate matter and ozone impacts your respiratory system, but ozone can more rapidly lead to acute cognitive symptoms. Generally, all air pollutants can negatively impact your health in the long-term. 

Air sensor networks are a great tool to monitor your exposure to air pollutants over time. Sensor networks use Air Quality Index (AQI) where higher numbers indicate greater levels of pollution. Being aware of the concentration of air pollutants in your environment and the amount of time you are exposed to these pollutants can help you take steps to reduce exposure. 

Some common symptoms of bad air include:

  • Coughing
  • Throat irritation
  • Eye irritation
  • Nose irritation
  • Airway inflammation
  • Chest pain
  • Asthma

The pandemic has also shown how harmful breathing dirty air can be, and how easily air travels throughout a space. 

Environmental Impact

Air pollution is not just isolated to cities, it can spread in different directions across thousands of miles. Air toxins can harm all life— from the smallest forest insects, to the big beluga whales in the Arctic Ocean. 

Some of the key environmental impacts of air pollution include increased levels of acid rain, which pollutes bodies of water and harms aquatic and plant life. Further, toxic compounds released into the air can accumulate in plants and animals, affecting us all as we can depend on these for consumption. Overall, air pollution is not an isolated issue and impacts ecosystems that we depend on for a healthy planet. 

What can you do?

You can keep yourself protected from bad air by checking your area’s air quality and taking precautions on bad days. If you live in the United States, check out AirNow, or look into local community air monitoring programs in your area.

You can also check out our other resources!

More Resources

Learn about how air quality has a direct impact on our collective and individual wellbeing.
Check out the air quality in your area!
There are three easy steps to improve your air, and the reason it is important.