Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Pollution: Possible Health Effects
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is made up of many kinds of
gases, droplets and particles that reduce the quality of the air. Air can be
polluted in both the city and the country.
In the city, air pollution may be caused by
cars, buses and airplanes, as well as industry and construction. Air pollution
in the country may be caused by dust from tractors plowing fields, trucks and
cars driving on dirt or gravel roads, rock quarries and smoke from wood and crop
Ground-level ozone is the major part of air
pollution in most cities. Ground-level ozone is created when engine and fuel
gases already released into the air interact when sunlight hits them. Ozone
levels increase in cities when the air is still and the sun is bright and the
temperature is warm. Ground-level ozone should not be confused with the "good"
ozone that is miles up in the atmosphere and that protects us from the sun's
What symptoms does air pollution
Air pollution can irritate the eyes, throat and
lungs. Burning eyes, cough and chest tightness are common with exposure to high
levels of air pollution.
However, different people can react very
differently to air pollution. Some people may notice chest tightness or
cough, while others may not notice any effects. Because exercise requires
faster, deeper breathing, it may increase the symptoms. People with heart
disease, such as angina, or with lung disease, such as asthma or emphysema, may
be very sensitive to exposure to air pollution and may notice symptoms when
others do not.
Is air pollution bad for my health?
Fortunately for most healthy people, the
symptoms of air pollution exposure usually go away as soon as the air
quality improves. However, certain groups of people are more sensitive to the
effects of air pollution than others.
Children probably feel the effects of pollution
at lower levels than adults. They also experience more illness, such as
bronchitis and earaches, in areas of high pollution than in areas with cleaner
People with heart or lung disease also react
more severely to polluted air. During times of heavy pollution, their condition
may worsen to the point that they must limit their activities or even seek
additional medical care. In the past, a number of deaths have been associated
with severely polluted conditions. Pollution this bad is rare today in the
The health effects of long-term exposure to low
levels of air pollution are being studied.
Is there a group that keeps track of
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) checks
and reports on air quality in the United States. Because of the
Agency's efforts, the nation's air quality has greatly improved over the
last 20 years. The EPA, in cooperation with local air-quality boards, measures
the level of pollution in the air over many large cities and a number of rural
Newspapers, television and radio stations often
give air-quality reports in areas where pollution is a problem. The Pollution
Standards Index (PSI) is a scale of air quality that ranges from 0 to 500 and is
used in many weather reports. A PSI score of over 100 indicates unhealthy air
What can I do to protect my family
Check the predicted PSI in your area. Be careful
if the PSI is greater than 100. Be careful also if there are high-risk weather
conditions, such as a hot, sunny day, and you begin to develop symptoms like
chest tightness, burning eyes or a cough.
You can protect yourself and your family from
the effects of air pollution by doing the following:
- Stay indoors as much as you can during days when
pollution levels are high. Many pollutants have lower levels indoors than
- If you must go outside, limit outside activity to
the early morning hours or wait until after sunset. This is important in high
ozone conditions (as in many large cities) because sunshine drives up ozone
- Don't exercise or exert yourself outdoors when
air-quality reports indicate unhealthy conditions. The faster you breathe, the
more pollution you take into your lungs.
These steps will generally
prevent symptoms in healthy adults and children. However, if you live or work
close to a known pollution source, or if you have a chronic heart or lung
problem, talk with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself from