How Does Air Pollution Affect the Immune System?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How Does Air Pollution Affect the Immune System?” First, the article will give important information about air pollution. Then, it will outline the meaning of the immune system. In addition, it will emphasize the relationship between air pollution and the immune system. In the end, the article will provide a detailed solution to minimize air pollution so that you can make your immunity strong.

How Does Air Pollution Affect the Immune System?

Air pollution affects the immune system by inflaming the immune cells and resulting in abnormal responses. In addition, the strength of the immune system depends on the following factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Lifestyle
  • Infection history
  • Genetics

Let’s first move ahead to see what air pollution means.

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.

WHO has suggested some revised guidelines on 22 September 2021 to improve the overall air quality. This organisation has decided to implement permissible limits of the earlier significant pollutants.

These permissible limits of ambient air quality are as follows:

PollutantsHourly mean concentration (ug/m-3)Annual mean concentration (ug/m-3)
PM2.5155
PM104515
NO22510
SO240
CO4
O38 hour: 100Peak season: 60

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. 

Now, let’s see what the immune system is.

What is the immune system, and why do we need it?

The body’s immune system is an intricate network of cells and proteins that helps your body fight infection. An extraordinary ability of this system is that it keeps a track record of each entered defeated germs and invaders entered in the past. This helps them to destroy the re-entered germs immediately.

The immune system consists of the following heroes:

  • White Blood Cells
  • Antibodies
  • Complement system
  • Lymphatic system
  • Spleen
  • Bone marrow
  • Thymus

All these heroes fight for your betterment; they destroy any occurred infection. However, several factors can affect your immune systems like sleep, diet, stress and hygiene. In addition to this, scientists have now discovered that filthy air can also weaken the immune system.

Let’s see the relationship between air pollution and the immune system.

Relationship between the immune system and air pollution

As explained in the earlier segment, the immune system helps you deal with the environment efficiently. However, disturbances in the environment such as air pollution can negatively impact your immunity. This can result in more susceptibility to contracting infectious diseases. Your immune system is made up of specific and non-specific mechanisms which helps an organism to distinguish between alien particles and beneficial ones. These strange nasty particles are then thrown away from your body.

Now, the air you breathe not only consist of oxygen but also other contaminants such as particulates, ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, soot, black carbon and what, not all. They all originate from human activities such as transportation, industries, combustion of fossil fuels, wildfires, etc.

Let’s see how these airborne pollutants adversely affect your immunity.

Your immune system comprises diverse immune cells such as macrophages, dendritic cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes. These air contaminants disturb the functioning of the above-explained cells. Air pollution specifically intensifies T helper lymphocyte type 2 (Th2) and type 17 (Th 17) adaptive immune response. Additionally, the inhaled air also affects the whole immune system, like the neonate and gastrointestinal tract.

As per the Circulation Research Journal of the Ohio State University, prolonged exposure to elevated air pollution can cause cardio-respiratory ailments. In addition, inhalation of filthy air can cause the release of white blood cells into the bloodstream and can result in inflammation. Besides, the presence of fine particulate matter creates an imbalance in the immune system.

The molecules which are present in the cells start reacting when they are exposed to particulate matter pollution. Thus, these molecules from the immune cells start altering their structure and activate toll-like receptor 4, known as (TLR4). TLR4 classifies the particular characteristics of pathogens and activates the white blood cells.

Further, Drew. A. Glencross et al. studied air pollution and its effect on the immune system. They noted that air pollutants could create concern in vitro anti-microbial and regulatory immune responses. Their study also highlighted that pollutants could trigger inflammatory cytokine release from the epithelium and macrophages. They also further explained that the inhaled pollutants directly generate cellular signalling pathways. The toxic agents also increased Th2 immune response. 

The scientists also observed that exposure to poor air quality affected the regulatory T cells of the immune system. Further, air pollution also decreased the T cells level, linked to chronic asthmatic symptoms and decreased lung efficiency.

Epidemiologists have found out that the immune system of children and pregnant women can be significantly compromised due to long term exposure to air pollution. One publication known as the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of 2010 issues states the very same.

The study published in this journal stated that they examined around 181 children with and without asthma in the California cities of Fresno and Palo Alto. Researchers selected Fresno city kids as this city is known for poor air quality, Palo Alto has comparatively lower air pollution. The researchers found that exposure to high levels of air pollution had suppressed the immunity system’s regulatory T cells (Treg). As a result, it lowered the level of Treg function. These reduced levels of Treg cells were distinctly linked to asthma symptoms and decreased lung capacity.

The study also revealed that pregnant women smoking cigarettes caused a potential threat to the fetus development; the smoke can cause molecular changes. The research finally concluded that sources such as vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) from the combustion of fossil fuels were responsible for weakening the immune system.

Thus, you should care about yourself and your loved ones as the compromised immune system can invite many fatal diseases and viruses such as COVID-19. In April 2020, the European Public Health Alliance discovered that the world cities with have worst air pollution had more cases of COVID-19. This was because of the already messed up immune system due to prolonged exposure to air pollution, which weakened the people’s ability to fight the illness.

But don’t worry after reading such heavy medical happenings inside your body. Instead, take a deep breath and read the next segment to know more about mitigating 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.

How does air pollution cause acid rain?

How Does Air Pollution affect the Climate?

How does air pollution affect the economy?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How Does Air Pollution Affect the Immune System?” First, the article gave important information about air pollution. Then, it outlined the meaning of the immune system. In addition, it emphasized the relationship between air pollution and the immune system. In the end, the article provided a detailed solution to minimize air pollution so that you can make your immunity strong.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How Does Air Pollution Affect the Immune System?

Does air pollution weaken the immune system?

Yes, air pollution weakens the immune system. The scientists observed that exposure to poor air quality affected the regulatory T cells of the immune system. Further, air pollution also decreased the T cells level, linked to chronic asthmatic symptoms and decreased lung efficiency.

How does the environment affect the immune system?

The microscopic pollution particles present in the environment can disturb the immune system. These particulate matter, to be more precise, can cause inflammation of immunity cells. This can also cause an abnormal immune response.

How does air pollution affect human health?

Air pollution affects human health in various ways. Elevated levels of air pollution can cause diseases as follows:

  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Respiratory Ailments
  • Mental disorders
  • Reproductive issues
  • Mortality and Morbidity
  • Defects in Infants
  • Ocular and Hearing Issues

What body system does air pollution affect the most?

The respiratory system is most affected by air pollution. Poor air quality negatively impacts on nose, throat and lungs. The immediate symptoms of air pollution are shortness of breath, dryness, and itching in the nose and throat.

How do toxic chemicals affect the immune system?

Toxic chemicals can cause harm to the immune system and can result in chronic diseases. In addition, such conditions can increase the chances of contracting fatal viruses. Scientists worldwide have warned that the continuation of the epidemic of chronic diseases can make future pandemics even worse.

What influences the immune system?

Other than environmental factors, the following things influence the immune system:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Infection History
  • Genetics

References

Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1  

How does air pollution affect our immune system? KENT Blog. Available at: https://www.kent.co.in/blog/how-does-air-pollution-affect-our-immune-system/#:~:text=Inhaling%20dirty%20air%20can%20trigger,particulate%20matter%2C%20can%20start%20reacting

Immune System explained. Immune system explained – Better Health Channel. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system  

Brudnicki, M., Cauwenberghs, N., Lee, J. et al. Air pollution exposure is linked with methylation of immunoregulatory genes, altered immune cell profiles, and increased blood pressure in children. Sci Rep 11, 4067 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-83577-3

Seema Vawda, Rafif Mansour, Andrea Takeda, Paula Funnell, Sally Kerry, Ian Mudway, Jeenath Jamaluddin, Seif Shaheen, Chris Griffiths, Robert Walton, Associations Between Inflammatory and Immune Response Genes and Adverse Respiratory Outcomes Following Exposure to Outdoor Air Pollution: A HuGE Systematic Review, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 179, Issue 4, 15 February 2014, Pages 432–442, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwt269

Caren, L.D., 1981. Environmental pollutants: Effects on the immune system and resistance to infectious disease. BioScience, 31(8), pp.582–586.

Epha, 2020. Air pollution and damages to immunity. EPHA. Available at: https://epha.org/air-pollution-and-damages-to-immunity/

Glencross, D.A. et al., 2020. Air pollution and its effects on the immune system. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 151, pp.56–68.

Sarah Yang, M.R.O.5 & Yang, S., 2010. Air pollution alters immune function, worsens asthma symptoms. Berkeley News. Available at: https://news.berkeley.edu/2010/10/05/asthma/

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