The Impact of Pollution On Your Body

Air pollution may be invisible to our eyes most of the time, but its impact on human health is not. Studies indicate that air pollution can affect human health in a variety of ways, and here is what you should know about it.

By URLife Team
05 Dec 2023

The introduction of pollutants or various forms of waste materials into our environment poses significant threats to the ecosystem upon which we depend. The profound impact of air pollution is starkly evident as it stands as the world's fourth most deadly threat, as per a 2023 report in The World Counts.


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According to a 2023 report in The World Counts, the devastating impact of air pollution is staggering: over 100 million years of healthy life vanish annually due to its effects. On average, this equates to an alarming statistic - approximately 1 year and 8 months of healthy life lost for every individual on our planet. Such an intense loss emphasises the urgent need for efforts to mitigate air pollution and safeguard the well-being of global populations.


Related story: Guide To Managing Asthma Amid Extreme Air Pollution


What is air pollution and how does it lead to disease in our bodies?

Air pollution encompasses the presence of various harmful substances in the atmosphere, including dust, fumes, gases, mists, odours, smoke, or vapour. When these substances exist in quantities and persist over time, they pose a threat to human health. Among the various pollutants, fine PM2.5 particles stand out as the most detrimental to human health. These particles are small enough to penetrate deeply into the lung passageways, leading to a heightened risk of health complications. Their association with increased premature mortality underscores the urgency of addressing and mitigating the impact of these harmful pollutants on public health.


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Major Sources of Air Pollution

Ambient air pollution stems from various sources, both natural and human-made. Some major contributors include:


Emissions from vehicles, especially those powered by fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel, release pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).


Industrial Activities

Manufacturing processes, factories, power plants, and construction work generate air pollutants like sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and various chemicals depending on the industry.


Agricultural Practices

Farming activities involving the use of fertilisers, pesticides, and livestock contribute to ammonia emissions and particulate matter, impacting air quality.


Residential Heating and Cooking

Combustion of solid fuels (like wood and coal) for heating and cooking in households leads to emissions of particulate matter and other pollutants.


Waste Management

Open burning of waste, as well as landfills and waste treatment facilities, releases methane and other harmful gases into the air.


Natural Sources

Volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and dust storms contribute natural particulate matter and gases to the atmosphere.


The primary route of exposure to air pollution is through the respiratory tract.


Inhalation of these pollutants triggers a chain of detrimental effects in the body. It induces inflammation, oxidative stress, immunosuppression, and can cause genetic mutations in cells distributed throughout our body. This adverse impact extends beyond the lungs, affecting vital organs such as the heart, brain, and others. 


Related story: How Much Do You Know About Your Lung Health


How does pollution impact the body?

Exposure to elevated levels of air pollution poses a range of detrimental health risks. It significantly heightens the likelihood of respiratory infections, heart disease, and even lung cancer. Both brief and extended exposure to air pollutants have been linked to adverse health effects, with more severe consequences observed among individuals already battling illness. Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and those with limited resources, are particularly susceptible to these health impacts.


Here are some health risks associated with air pollution:

1. Respiratory Issues

Increased risk of asthma, bronchitis, and aggravated respiratory conditions due to inhalation of pollutants. According to a 2019 report by the World Health Organisation, up to 14 per cent of children between 5 and 18 years old globally lose their lives due to respiratory diseases associated with exposure to air pollution. 


Related story: Proof That Sustainable Living Can Significantly Decrease Your Carbon Footprint


2. Cardiovascular Problems

Long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to notable changes in blood cells that impact cardiac function. A 2020 study by the journal Frontiers in Public Health has indicated a correlation between prolonged exposure to traffic emissions and the development of coronary arteriosclerosis. Additionally, short-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to various cardiovascular issues including hypertension, stroke, heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), and heart failure. 


Related story: How To Manage Asthma Better


3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Reduced lung function and development of chronic respiratory diseases due to prolonged exposure to pollutants. A 2020 study reported in Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine revealed that the prevalence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) was 13.7 per cent in individuals aged 40 years and older. Various risk factors contribute to the development of COPD, including smoking, air pollution, occupational exposure, respiratory infections, and genetic factors such as a1-antitrypsin deficiency. 


4. Cancer

Elevated risk of lung cancer and other respiratory system cancers associated with long-term exposure to certain air pollutants. According to a 2022 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research of Public Health, outdoor air pollution has been classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans. Among the components of air pollution, particulate matter (PM) has been strongly linked to increased cancer incidence, particularly in relation to lung cancer. The fine particulate matter present in outdoor air pollution has been identified as closely associated with elevated rates of lung cancer, contributing to the overall carcinogenic risk posed by outdoor air pollution.


5. Neurological Effects

Potential impacts on brain health, cognitive function, and neurological disorders due to exposure to toxic air particles. A 2008 study conducted on 1,003 adult subjects issued in the European Respiratory Journal,  revealed that an increase in particle count correlated with heightened markers of systemic inflammation, specifically elevating levels of IL-6 and fibrinogen in the peripheral system. Infants, due to their rapid growth and cell differentiation, along with immature metabolic pathways and the ongoing development of vital organs, are particularly vulnerable to environmental influences. 


6. Premature Mortality

Increased rates of premature death, particularly among vulnerable populations, are linked to severe air pollution. According to a 2023 report in The World Counts, 8, 256500 people have died due to air pollution to date. Poor air quality significantly contributes to adverse health effects and heightened disease rates, particularly among vulnerable populations. Children, the elderly, and individuals residing in regions with elevated levels of air pollution face increased susceptibility to its detrimental impact.


7. Pregnancy Complications

Adverse effects on foetal development and increased risk of complications during pregnancy due to exposure to pollutants. A 2023 study in the journal BMC Public Health, revealed that exposure to PM2.5 had notable direct and indirect effects on the likelihood of various adverse birth outcomes. Maternal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during pregnancy was directly linked to an increased risk of adverse birth outcomes. Additionally, higher levels of maternal exposure to sulphur dioxide during pregnancy were associated with an elevated probability of infants being small for their gestational age.


8. Immune System Impact

Weakened immune responses and heightened susceptibility to infections and diseases caused by air pollution. According to a 2022 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research of Public Health, the persistent state of inflammation triggered by exposure to air pollution plays a pivotal role in the development of metabolic and immune-mediated diseases. It significantly impacts the skin, leading primarily to conditions such as skin ageing, allergic contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis (AD), psoriasis, acne, and potentially contributing to the development of skin cancer. 


9. Allergies and Skin Conditions

Aggravation of allergies, skin irritations, and conditions like eczema due to exposure to certain airborne pollutants. In a 2022 review article issued in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, prolonged exposure to air pollutants leads to oxidative stress, a condition where the balance between antioxidants and free radicals is disrupted, causing damage to skin cells and tissues. Furthermore, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, often in conjunction with air pollutants, has been linked to extrinsic skin ageing and an increased risk of developing skin cancers. This combination of factors can accelerate the ageing process of the skin and heighten the risk of skin conditions, emphasising the importance of protective measures against environmental pollutants and UV radiation to maintain skin health.



Recognising and addressing these challenges is crucial for safeguarding the health of our planet and all its inhabitants. Addressing air pollution involves implementing strategies to reduce emissions from these sources, including cleaner energy alternatives, improved industrial practices, better waste management, and enhanced transportation systems.


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.




Ravi 07 Dec 2023

good for knowledge

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