Air pollution is a term used to describe the spread of substances in the air, whether natural or man made, which are harmful to the human body and the environment. These air pollutants typically include wood, burning charcoal, fossil fuels and smog which can easily be embedded into the lungs. From here, these pollutants can spread to the rest of the body through blood circulation. This can be potentially fatal depending on the severity of the pollutants.
The reason behind it is that as the pollutants are in blood circulation, they pass through the liver whose task is to allow for detoxification. Here, depending on the chemical structure of the pollutants, the liver could eliminate the pollutants. When this has to be done repeatedly, it places great strain on the liver and easily reduces its efficiency. Below are some of the dangers of air pollution alongside three top ways to protect yourself.
What are the Dangers of Air Pollutants?
Having outlined what air pollution is above, it becomes important to mention that the four key pollutants are sulphur dioxide, ozone at the ground level, particulate matter as well as nitrogen dioxide. Additionally, there are other indoor pollutants such as biological pollutants (mainly allergens), tobacco smoke and the use of aerosols. All of these pollutants can cause health risks if they exceed the limits put in place by WHO. With adverse health risks and a myriad of pollutants, it is vital to know what the dangers of this form of pollution are.
i) Ozone at the Ground Level:
This type of pollutant is distinctly different from the ozone layer found at higher altitudes. It forms when the sun’s ultraviolet rays interact with air pollutants in the environment. The most common air pollutants that facilitate these reaction include volatile organic compounds (abbreviated VOCs) and different oxides of Nitrogen (NOx). These two are primarily caused by automobiles, construction equipment and agricultural equipment.
One of the most striking things about the ground-level ozone is that its levels typically peak in the afternoon and dusk hours, especially during summer. This ozone at the ground level is a potent irritant that causes the narrowing of the airways, and thus restricting the proper functioning of the respiratory system. This forces the body to work harder in order to provide enough oxygen for the cells.
Other health complications that may arise include:
- More intense symptoms in respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis.
- Damage to the lung structure which is often accompanied by coughing, sneezing or a sore throat.
- Inexplicable fatigue.
- A weakened immune system that increases the risk of infections and disease.
- Wheezing that often manifests alongside a dry throat, chest pains, headache as well as nausea.
- Poor performance at work/at daily chores.
ii) Suspended Particulate Matter:
Suspended Particulate matter (abbreviated SPM) is a term used to describe a complicated mixture of organic and inorganic compounds suspended in the air. These include metals, smokes, soots, dust, water and tire rubber. There are two ways in which this form of pollutants is released into the environment. It may be emitted directly as is the case of a fire or smoke, or it may be produced as a result of gaseous reactions in the atmosphere.
The main concern, and one of the reasons why SPM poses a health risk to the human body is that it may contain lead, arsenic and nickel among others that are present in motor vehicle exhaust. This requires special mention for two key reasons. First, it affects people on a global scale simply because of the commuting aspect. Secondly, a lot of evidence has been collected in this regard, and there’s more data on SPM than on any other pollutant in the world.
When it comes to the health risk associated with SPM, the critical point is in the size of the particles. The smaller they are (usually referred to as PM2.5 or fine particulate matter), the greater the health risk as these pollutants are able to get embedded deep into the lungs with easy access to the bloodstream. Exposure to such particles results in significant health problems.
Short Term Effects of SPM Pollution Include:
- Aggravation of lung disease that often leads to asthma attacks
- Increased risk of infections affecting the respiratory system
- Even in healthy people, temporary symptoms such as tightening of the chest, coughing, nose irritation and tearing of the eyes.
Long-Term Exposure to SPM Pollutants may cause the Following Health Complications:
- Poor lung function.
- Increased respiratory symptoms that often include sneezing, coughing, constriction of the airways as well as strained breathing.
- In asthmatic patients, the condition worsens over time.
- There is also the risk of chronic respiratory conditions in kids.
- In people with lung disease such as lung cancer, there is an increased likelihood of premature death.
- SPM also affects the heart’s health with effects such as an irregular heartbeat and heart attacks.
iii) Sulphur Dioxide:
Sulphur dioxide (abbreviated SO2) is a colourless gas that is characterized by a sharp pungent odor. It is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, specifically oil and coal, that are rich in sulfur. It is also a product of mineral ores that undergo smelting. As a result, most of SO2 comes from domestic heating, motor vehicles exhaust and generation of power.
Below are some of the effects of SO2.
- Reduced function of the respiratory system.
- The inflammation of the respiratory tract thus leading to excessive mucus production, coughing and sneezing.
- Aggravation of existent conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
- Eye irritation
- It has also been seen that in people with heart diseases, SO2 leads to higher rates of hospital admissions and increased mortality.
NOTE: Data collected on SO2 production is often difficult to ascertain because it constitutes part of SPM.
iv) Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2):
Nitrogen dioxide is a chief product of combustion processes such as vehicular engines, ships and power generation plants. Long term exposure to NO2 pollution leads to:
- A significant reduction in the function of the lungs.
- Increased susceptibility to respiratory diseases in kids especially during winter.
Three Ways in Which you can Protect Yourself From Air Pollutants:
1. Make Diet Changes to Help you Cope with the Effects of Air Pollution:
Add foods that are rich in antioxidants to your diet. This is because the presence of antioxidants helps to fight off free radicals in the body. One of the best ways to do this is to take fish oil on a regular basis. Fish oil is packed with omega-3 fatty acids that protect the heart from damage associated with air pollution.
Peppermint is a popular home remedy for a myriad of conditions especially those affecting the lungs. Part of the reason for this is that peppermint helps to soothe the respiratory passages and this allows for easier breathing.
What’s more, peppermint also has excellent antioxidant and antihistamine properties that improve the function of the lungs. Eucalyptus is also an excellent alternative in place of peppermint. Other additions that you can make include essential oils which counter the effect of air pollution and herbal products such as lungwort and osha root.
2. Follow the Following Recommendations to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution:
- Consider installing an air purifier within the home.
- It helps to avoid burning candles and using air fresheners.
- Clean air conditioning filters on a regular basis and make sure you vacuum clean the house as often as possible.
- Ensure there is flow of fresh air to prevent mold formation on surfaces. Note, however, that you should only do this on days when the air quality is good.
3. Lastly, you may Consider Moving to Places Where There is Less Congestion:
Owing to the nature of air pollution, people who live in towns and cities are at greater risk of encountering pollutants than those who live in the countryside. Granted, it may not be a fool proof method to protect yourself, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. In addition to this, it also helps to avoid exercising close to highways. Different reports have shown that air pollution is one of the biggest risk for human health. by knowing what causes these pollutants, how they affect the human body and simple ways to alleviate their effects, it is possible to improve your overall health.