Can poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms?

In this blog post, we will discuss “Can poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms?” At first, we will discuss air pollution. In addition, the article will also emphasize on Air Quality Index. Then, the report will outline the connection between poor air quality and cold-like symptoms. In the end, the article will focus in deep on solutions to minimize air pollution.

Can poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms?

Yes, poor air quality can cause cold-like symptoms. It is one of the immediate symptoms and an indicator of air pollution. A temporary sign, when left untreated, can cause many severe diseases and infections in the respiratory tract. The cold-like symptom can also be a warning of the beginning of the following symptoms:

  • Seasonal or Viral flu
  • Bacterial infections
  • Rhinosinusitis
  • Rhinitis

Let’s first see the basics of air pollution.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

Therefore, striving towards minimising air pollution can also help to improve climate change mitigation efforts. In addition, reducing emissions will enhance the quality of air.

What is indoor and outdoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called ambient pollution or outdoor pollution. Some of the examples are the transportation sector, energy generation, industries, dust storms, etc. Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution or household pollution. Cooking activities, cleaning and dusting of house, use of scents and perfumes, etc. Are some of the examples of indoor air pollution.

 Let’s see what Air Quality Index is. 

What is AQI, and what levels make it unhealthy?

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the air quality index (AQI) to know the air quality you inhale. The table given below will show how the air quality index looks like.

Air Quality Index (AQI)Levels of Health Concern
(When the AQI is in this range)(air quality conditions are)
0 to 50Good           
51 to 100Moderate
101 to 150Unhealthy for Sensitive group
151 to 200Unhealthy
201 to 300Very Unhealthy
301 to 500Hazardous

The primary purpose of AQI is to inform residents about the impact of local air quality on their health. The Environment Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The meaning of the Air quality index as mentioned earlier categories are as follows:

Meaning
Air quality is considered satisfactory; air pollution is of little or no risk.
Air quality is acceptable; some pollutants present in the air might be dangerous for a minority of people who are very sensitive to air pollution.
Members of sensitive groups may get ill effects. However, the general public is likely not to get affected.
This air quality level can pose a threat to everyone. However, members of sensitive people may experience more severe effects.
Emergency level of air quality; Entire population might be affected
Health alert: Every person breathing such air quality may get serious health issues.

 Thus, it is clear that excluding the first two levels are relatively good to venture out and to do various outdoor activities. However, the last three levels will give you or other adverse effects by inhaling dirty air. 

After getting the clarity of the basics, let’s dive in to discover more about the relation between air quality and cold-like symptoms.

Relationship between poor air quality and cold-like symptoms

Years of scientific studies have suggested that the quality of the air you take in affects your health in multiple ways. For example, if the air quality is poor, the immediate symptom you get is coughing and sneezing. In addition, the medical report of John Hopkins University has stated that prolonged exposure to particulate pollution can lead to cold-like symptoms and, when untreated, can cause sinusitis issues.

The air surrounding you is not just containing pure oxygen; it has a presence of many toxic pollutants concentration. Some of the pollutants may be chemical or biological. For example, particulate matter, SOx, NOx, CO released from industries and vehicle exhaust, and allergens such as pollens, dirt, dust, bacteria and viruses.

When you inhale such a cocktail of pollutants, it can affect your body and mind in multiple ways. First, these microscopic particles such as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) can deeply penetrate your lungs. These particles have a unique ability to cling to your lung muscles, which causes chest irritation. Further, these pollutants, along with oxygen, get absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, your body starts receiving less oxygen supply, and that’s when you start feeling dizzy, sluggish and irritated. But that’s not all, and it can make your airways dry and irritated too. 

To understand the biology and dynamics of the response of the upper respiratory system to air quality more, Dr Ramanathan with his team experimented on 38 mice. Out of 38 mice, nineteen were exposed to the filtered air, while the remaining were kept in contact with polluted air whose concentrations were similar to Baltimore. The team carried out this activity for about 16 weeks.

After the 16 week exposure to different types of air quality, the research team cleaned their nasal passages and sinuses with water, and they examined this drained water under a microscope. Dr Ramanathan and his teammates found out that the fluid contains mucus and white blood cells. Thus, they proved that the fluid’s secretion of white blood cells represented inflammation and cold-like infection in the nose and sinuses. Further, the research team also examined the inner lining of the airway tract under the microscope. After the examination, they stated that the epithelium layer was 30 to 40% thick than the mice which inhaled filtered air. Thus, these studies can tell that the inner linings of the upper respiratory system get swollen due to the inhalation of pollutants.  

But do you know why you get snot when you come in contact with air pollution? It’s a defence mechanism of your body. So let’s understand this a bit more.

Everything you should know about the poor air quality and cold.

You might not like your snot coming from the nose. Even I’m not too fond of it coming out. But, in actuality, a snot or nasal mucus is a beneficial body product. It symbolizes the proper functioning of the body. Moreover, the consistency of the mucus can help our GPs to disclose illnesses.

Your throat and nose are lined with the glands which produce this mucus. The primary purpose of the nasal mucus is to keep the linings of your nose and sinuses adequately moist, trap the dust and other pollutants you take in, and fight infections and irritation.

Generally, the consistency of the mucus is very thin and watery. But it changes when your mucus membranes in the upper airways get inflamed or irritated; your nose can secrete thick mucus. Afterwards, it can turn into a runny nose.

As mentioned earlier, the inflammation of your airways occurs due to the inhalation of pollutants, allergens, irritants and infections. Intensification in the production of snot or nasal mucus in one way means that your body is responding to colds and allergies. It is because the mucus acts as a defence against the contracted infection. Secondly, the overgeneration of the mucus means that your body is trying to make it free from the airborne pollutants causing the inflammation. In addition to this, the overproduced thicker mucus makes it difficult for bacteria viruses to settle on the linings or from entering them in the unwanted places of your body.

Thus, the bottom line is that poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms as the pollutants enter your respiratory system. Then, the mucus membrane present inside your nose, throat, and sinus create a snot or runny nose as a defence mechanism to throw it out of your body. However, such cold-like symptoms make you feel sluggish, give you sleepless nights and lower your productivity.

The other effects of air pollution are given below.

What are the health effects of air pollution?

Environmental studies have proved that PM2.5 and PM10 have caused relevant harm to public health. Both pollutants can deeply penetrate inside your lungs. PM2.5 can enter your bloodstream, which results in various respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. It can also affect other organs. WHO has declared these two pollutants as carcinogenic elements.

The detailed adverse effects on human health are as follows:

  • Respiratory ailments: COPD, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, common cold and cough, throat infection, lung cancer, chest congestion, sinus congestion, etc. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Heart attack, cardiac arrest, chest pain, heart blockage, stroke, etc. 
  • Mental disorders: Anxiety, insomnia, depression, low productivity, irritation, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, brain stroke, paralysis, etc.

The other effects of air pollution are low sperm counts, low reproductive ability, infertility and congenital infant disabilities.

 Now let’s see ahead of the exact relation between poor air quality and your sluggish behaviour.

In the next section, I will elaborate on solutions to minimize air pollution.

What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Can bad air quality make it hard to breathe?

Bad air quality in California

Bad Air Quality in Minnesota

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “Can poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms?” At first, we debated air pollution. In addition, the article also emphasized on Air Quality Index. Then, the report outlined the connection between poor air quality and cold-like symptoms. In the end, the article focused in deep on solutions to minimize air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs): Can poor air quality cause cold-like symptoms?

Can you get cold from poor air quality?

Yes, you can get cold from poor air quality. Many studies have suggested that high levels exposure of to air pollution can cause sickness and influenza. Toxic pollutants responsible for such conditions are ozone, particulate matter, nitric oxides, sulphur dioxide, etc.

What are the symptoms of poor air quality?

The symptoms of poor air quality are as follows:

  • Dryness and irritation of eyes, nose, throat and skin
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Confusion
  • Sinus congestion

Can poor air quality cause sinus infections?

Yes, poor air quality can cause a sinus infection. People living in elevated levels of air pollution for a long time can cause sinusitis, chronic sinusitis, meningitis, asthma and postnasal drip.

Does wearing a mask help you from poor air quality?

Yes, wearing a good quality mask can help you from poor air quality. Proper coverage to the mouth and nose can prevent inhalation of PM2.5 pollutions.

Can mask filter ozone?

Carbon mask filters can remove 96-98% of ambient O3. On the other hand, filters with no carbon properties can filter out up to 37%.

However, researchers found out that people wearing masks without carbon filters experienced respiratory irritation.

Are silk masks effective?

As per the researchers of the University of Cincinnati, silk can absorb efficiently tiny aerosol droplets from penetrating masks compared to cotton and polyester.

References

Cold and flu symptoms vs poor indoor air quality: SafeAir2018. SafeAir Environmental Inc. Available at: https://www.safeair.ca/blog/cold-flu-symptoms-or-poor-indoor-air-quality  

Lake, L., 2017. Airsickness: Common air pollution ailments you need to know. Air Filters for Clean Air. Available at: https://cleanair.camfil.us/2017/04/07/air-sickness-common-air-pollution-ailments-need-know/

London, N.R., Lina, I. & Ramanathan, M., 2018. Aeroallergens, air pollutants, and chronic rhinitis and rhinosinusitis. World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 4(3), pp.209–215.

Rapaport, L., 2020. Air pollution may aggravate nasal suffering with colds and seasonal allergies. Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-pollution-rhinitis-idUSKBN2072RX

Roland, J., 2018. Do I have allergies or a cold? Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/allergies-or-cold#cold

Timesofindia.com, 2021. What are the symptoms one needs to be careful of? The Times of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/air-pollution-levels-rise-how-do-pollution-levels-cause-viral-fever-what-are-the-symptoms-to-be-concerned-about/photostory/87555361.cms?picid=87555386

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