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How Air Quality Affects Your Health

Air-Quality-and-Health

Breathing is the most natural and instinctive act that you perform. It does not require any particular or conscious thought. However, have you ever wondered what you are inhaling? If the air that you rely on for oxygen is doing you good, or is it harming you more? Given the current levels of pollution, you need to start worrying about the quality of air that you inhale and the effect this quality can have on your health. This article will help enlighten you to the concept of air quality and its influence on your health.

What is Air Quality?

In simplest terms, air quality refers to the condition of the air around you. Good air quality is the degree to which the air around you is clean and fresh, free of smoke, smog, dust, and other harmful pollutants. The quality here pertains primarily to the level of air cleanliness.

How is Air Quality Measured?

Air quality is assessed, and the level communicated through a benchmark known as the “Air Quality Index.” The AQI measures air quality by assessing the level of pollutants present in the air. These pollutants can be either man-made or natural. Some examples are:

Man-Made Pollutants

  • Gasses and particles from vehicles
  • Industrial Toxic Gasses
  • Burning of wood, coal, crackers and other substances
  • Landfills
  • Construction Site Dust

Natural Pollutants

  • Dust storm
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Fog and mist
  • Sea Salt spray

An AQI from 0 to 50 is considered a good level of air quality. AQI between 50 to 100 is considered acceptable. Anything over AQI 100 is harmful to your health.

Air Quality Impact on Health

The quality of air that you breathe affects your health in numerous ways. However, unless the quality is tremendously poor, the effects are not generally seen or felt immediately. Breathing in poor quality air is like slow poison. The main irritants present in the air are:

  • Nitrogen Oxide
  • Sulfur Oxide
  • Ozone
  • Particulate matter especially particulate matter below 2.5 microns (PM2.5)
  • Perfumes and aerosols
  • Fumes from gas and fire

The severity of air pollution is apparent from the figure that air pollution kills an estimate of 7 million people worldwide in a year. WHO has linked the exposure to poor air quality as one of the main factors of non-communicable diseases affecting the world today. Some of the effects of poor air quality are discussed below in detail:

General Air Quality Impact

  • Immediate health problems arising from exposure to poor air quality include:
    • Cardiovascular and Respiratory conditions like shortness of breath and chest tightening
    • Increased stress on lungs and heart
    • Respiratory cell damage compromising the lung function
    • Eye, nose and throat irritation
    • Coughing
  • Permanent health problems due to long term exposure to poor quality air:
    • Impaired lung capacity and function
    • Accelerated lung aging
    • Development of conditions like:
      • Asthma
      • Bronchitis
      • Emphysema
      • Cancer
    • Shortened life span

Specific Pollutant Impact

  • Ground Level Ozone Pollutant: When the volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides reach with the ultraviolet ray of the sun, it gives rise to the ground-level ozone. Primary sources of this pollutant are vehicles, construction, and agricultural equipment. The impact of ground-level ozone on health is listed below:
    • Severe respiratory diseases like Asthma, Bronchitis, and Emphysema.
    • Lung damage even when symptoms like coughing and sore throat have disappeared.
    • Wheezing
    • Chest pain
    • Nausea and Headache
    • Increased susceptibility to infections
    • Enhanced Fatigue
  • Particulate Matter, especially PM2.5: The particulate matter is a mix of metals, nitrates, sulfur, soot, smoke, dust, etc. The potential of particulate matter to cause harm depends directly on the size of the particles. Small particles are known as PM2.5 and posses a greater potential to cause harm since they bypass the natural defenses of the body and penetrate deep into your lungs and heart. The health problems caused by PM are:
    • Compromised Lung Function
    • Severe Asthma
    • Irregular Heartbeats
    • Nonfatal Heart Attacks
    • Premature death especially in people with heart and lung conditions
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) especially in children
    • Chronic Bronchitis and Chronic lung diseases

Who Lies in The Risk Zone?

The air quality impact differs from person to person. The way poor air affects your health depends on a lot of factors. People most at risk of adverse health effects from poor air quality are:

  • Children: The immunity of children is still in the developing stages. This is why they are more prone to any type of illness and disease. Add to this the fact that children breathe in more air than an average adult and that their passageways are also narrower. Hence just a little bit of inflammation and irritation is enough to get them seriously sick.
  • Seniors: Old people also have compromised immunity, and their body does not work well in eliminating harmful effects in general. Further majority of the older population already have some serious illness or another like diabetes, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular diseases, which further aggravates poor air.
  • Active or Sick Adults: Very active adults that tend to spend a better part of their day outdoors are more prone to the ill effects of poor air quality than those that generally stay indoors. Also, people already having a pre-existing condition like COPD are more prone to further ill effects than healthier adults.
  • Pregnant Women: Pregnancy makes you more susceptible to all the harmful factors in the environment. When your body is already stressed with a lot of demands, the natural resistance is compromised. Hence pregnant women are advised to avoid bad quality air exposure. This can be dangerous for the woman and the fetus in her womb.

How to Improve Air Quality at Home?

There are two types of air quality that you encounter. These are:

  • Outdoor air quality
  • Indoor air quality

There is nothing much that you can do to improve the outdoor air quality you encounter, but you can control your indoor air quality. Indoor air quality includes the air of all the places you visit and spend time in during the day. Needless to say, a majority of indoor air quality is your home air quality. So how can you improve this air quality? Below are some pointers to keep your home air quality the best for your lungs:

  • Keep your home well ventilated to rid of any mold, pollen, or tobacco pollutants.
  • Clean your home daily to prevent any build-up of dirt and dust.
  • If possible, invest in an air purifier.
  • Avoid burning incense or using air fresheners.
  • Also, try to rid your home of aerosols and spray cleaners wherever possible.
  • Use chimney while cooking to avoid the cooking gasses and fumes from entering other rooms
  • Keep some indoor air purifier plants like the snake plant, money plant, and cactus.
  • Bathe your pets as often as possible and brush their coat regularly to avoid pet dander and pet hair from accumulating.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Bad Air Quality

In an ideal world, you will never be faced with the possibility of getting exposed to poor quality air. However, this world is far from ideal. Sometimes it is impossible to escape from poor air quality. Even in those circumstances, you can take a few precautionary measures to protect yourself. Some of them are listed below:

  • Invest in a good face mask, preferably the N95 version with built-in filters.
  • If you do not have a mask, cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or some other available cloth.
  • As far as possible, avoid venturing outdoors when the pollution level is high.
  • Get a car purifier for your car if travel is unavoidable for you.
  • Do not indulge in exercises or any physically demanding arduous activity when the AQI is high.

FAQ Section

Some commonly asked questions are discussed below:

Does Air quality have an impact on health?

The air that you breathe makes a lot of difference to your overall health. Poor air quality affects not only your eyes, nose, and throat; it also impacts your cardiovascular system and other respiratory conditions. Breathing pouted air for prolonged periods can cause you to develop asthma, serious allergies, impaired lung function, and heart diseases.

Is it possible to check your home air quality?

There are various machines available in the market to check the air quality in your home. These air quality monitors check the levels of allergens, dust, and humidity and, in some cases, even the chemical pollutants present in the air inside your home.

What is the safe limit of air quality?

Air Quality Index of 100 and below is considered to be a safe and acceptable level. Anything more than 100 is cause for concern and signifies the presence of harmful levels of pollutants in the air.

Are air purifiers harmful to health?

Air purifiers are a great way of keeping your indoor air healthy optimum. It ensures that your home air AQI is maintained at optimal levels. However, you have to make sure you buy an air purifier that is HEPA filter based. These remove the harmful pollutants leaving your air fresh and pure without releasing any harmful by-products that would harm your health. Ozone filter-based air purifiers, on the other hand, produce a lot of harmful pollutants while filtering your air and are potentially harmful to you.

Conclusion

The air that you breathe in is the health that you live with. Though it is difficult to manage the air quality around you at all times, it would be best for you to take appropriate measures to ensure that you are exposed to good quality air the majority of times.

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