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Quick Facts

Air Pollution-Related Illness

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2019| Content last modified Jun 2019
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What is air pollution-related illness?

Air pollution-related illness is a medical problem caused or made worse by air pollution. It is one type of environmental lung disease.

  • Air pollution can affect anyone, but children are more sensitive to it

  • Air pollution can cause cough and breathing problems and make lung diseases such as asthma, and COPD worse

  • You’re more likely to have problems from air pollution if you live in a high traffic area, such as a city

  • Indoor air can be polluted if you use a fire for cooking or heating or if people smoke

What causes air pollution?

Common causes of air pollution include:

  • Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, gasoline, oil, and natural gas

  • Ozone, which is formed when sunlight reacts with chemicals in the air that came from burning fossil fuels

  • Burning certain fuels, such as wood, animal waste, and crops, for heating or cooking indoors

  • Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, particularly indoors

Levels of air pollution change throughout the day. You can see how polluted the air is by checking the Air Quality Index. This is a scale from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to rate how much pollution is in the air.

How can doctors tell if I have an air pollution-related illness?

Doctors will look at:

  • What air pollution you may be breathing

  • Your symptoms

  • Breathing tests

  • Your health history, such as if you have asthma, or COPD or if you are a smoker, and if symptoms gets worse when you breathe polluted air

How do doctors treat air pollution-related illness?

Doctors treat your symptoms. Treatments may include:

  • Asthma medicines to open the airways

How can I prevent air pollution-related illness?

Employers should follow guidelines on limiting the amount of gases, dust, and fumes they produce. Employees should follow guidelines on how to limit exposure to pollutants in the workplace.

People, particularly children, older people, and people with heart or lung disorders, should limit their time outside when the air quality is poor.

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