How does air pollution cause asthma?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution cause asthma?” In this blog post, we will first look into the basics of air pollution. Then, it will address the information related to asthma. In the main, we will discuss whether the poor air quality causes asthma. In the end, the article will provide practical solutions to lessen air pollution.

How does air pollution cause asthma?

The air pollutants present in the air can quickly irritate your airways, giving rise to asthmatic symptoms. Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution can worsen asthma and can aggravate it. The elevated levels of toxic pollutants which aggravate asthma are as follows:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Particulate matter
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Sulphur dioxide
  • Irritants such as pet fur and dander

Let’s first look into the basics of air pollution; after all, you need to know about the air you breathe.

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. 

What is Outdoor and Indoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called outdoor pollution. The examples of outdoor pollution are as follows:

  • Transportation
  • Combustion of fossil fuel
  •  Cooking activities
  • Energy generation and consumption
  • Agriculture
  •  Improper Solid Waste Management
  • Industries and factories
  • Household pollution
  • Celebrations
  • Construction and demolition

Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution. The examples of indoor pollution are as follows:

  • Household activities 
  • Perfumes and fresheners 
  • Cooking fuel/activities
  • Cigarette 
  • Radon 
  • Poor ventilation 
  • Uncleaned furniture 
  • Pets 
  • Asbestos

 There are two leading causes of air pollution- natural pollution (happened due to natural events like dust storms) and anthropogenic pollution (happened due to human activities like combustion of fossil fuels).

Now that we understand air pollution briefly let’s see what insects are and some insect facts in the United States.

Now that you have got about the air pollution let’s see what an asthmatic condition is.

Everything you should know about asthma

What is asthma?

As per WHO, asthma is a respiratory condition that can cause difficulty breathing in children and adults. The air passages coming to the lungs gets narrow due to their swelling and tightening of the muscles around the small airways. The symptoms of asthma are as follows:

  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

These above-listed symptoms are recurrent and often get worse during night times or exercise.

But from where can you get asthmatic condition?

If you have asthma, it gets initiated due to the following things:

  • smelling smoke
  • strong perfume odour
  • pet fur or dander
  •  pollens
  • viral infections
  • dust and dirt
  • strong soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Petrol fumes
  • Fluctuating seasonal changes

Who can get asthma?

There are many factors associated with the risk of developing asthma, and it can be often interlinked to many other conditions as well. Notably, the World Health Organisation has stated out some of the critical facts:

Asthma is prevalent if asthmatic history runs in your family, especially a close relative like a sibling or a parent.

Urban lifestyle is often linked to the threat of developing asthma, maybe due to various factors such as swift lifestyle, less exercise, industrialization, combustion of fossil fuels and so on.

People who are more vulnerable to allergic conditions. For example, people get cold and cough conditions or hay fever exposed to irritants or allergens such as pollens.

Children or late teens are early exposed to air pollution. Many medical studies say that high exposure to air pollution can cause lung development issues in the womb. This early exposure can also cause problems during childhood and late teens. As a result, such a group can be vulnerable to getting asthma.

Exposure to chemicals such as plastic, paints, dyes, adhesives and petrol fumes can trigger asthmatic conditions. You can encounter such irritants when you roam out or even if you are at your home.

Doctors claim that adults and children who are overweight or obese are prone to a higher risk of asthma. While still research is going on to find the link between these two, experts believe that extra weight gain can result in low-grade inflammation in the body.

The adults aged 65 years or older are more vulnerable than most of the kids. Research once said that adults were nearly five times more likely than kids to die from asthma.

In the end, another curious study says that women are twice as likely as men to have asthma because of the effects of sex hormones on lung cells. Researchers have observed that testosterone stalled an immune cell connected to asthmatic symptoms, such as inflammation and mucus production in the lungs.

After telling such curious, vital facts, I will tell you how the filthy air quality can cause asthma.

Does poor air quality cause asthma?

Yes, poor, filthy air quality cause asthma and can also develop asthmatic conditions. This is because the air you breathe contains varieties of airborne contaminants. Once you inhale such polluted air inside, it can irritate your airways and lungs. Such irritation can cause swelling and inflammation of the epithelium linings present inside the respiratory system.

The air passage which goes through your lungs can become narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Also, the mucus membrane present inside the lungs can create mucus as a defence mechanism to trap unwanted pollutants.

Scientific evidence has proved that a weak immune system can cause asthma in children. The study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of 2010 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 tobacco smoke exposure of the mothers caused hindrances in the lung development of the fetus. Researchers further analyzed that such children at early stages and later teens got asthma or experienced asthmatic problems.

The research pointed out 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, such weakening of the immune system directly corresponded to asthma generation among kids and adults.

Another study published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in 2018 has found out that airborne pollutants such as ozone and coarse particulate matter can cause asthma in children. They have also estimated that around six million children in the United States are sensitive to air pollution and can cause asthma. The study further highlighted that African American adolescents were more susceptible to air pollution than other children.

The collaborative studies made by the EPA and investigators at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill suggested that ozone impacted the health of African American kids with moderate-to-severe persistent asthma conditions.  These children were residing in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. Results showed that ozone exposure at levels lower than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) was connected with pulmonary and other changes in African-American children with persistent asthma.

Researchers also discovered that an increase in ozone concentrations was associated with lower lung functionality. In addition, the asthmatic participants were on medications even at the low levels of ozone. The study further revealed a link between ozone exposure and an upsurge in the level of fatty substances detected in the blood. Air experts worldwide have also proved that exposure to ozone through smog causes a significant threat to lung functionality irrespective of age. Ozone is a highly reactive molecule that damages the anti-inflammatory lining of the lungs.

Another study conducted by EPA revealed that coarse particulate matter could also be as fatal as fine and ultrafine particulates. Many pieces of evidence have proved that PM2.5 profoundly penetrates inside the lungs and causes respiratory ailments. However, the present study revealed that coarse particulates such as the particulate matter of 10 micrometres (PM10) could cause irritation of the airways and trigger asthma.

Researchers observed the connection of coarse particulates with asthma in children more significant. They finally concluded that as younger children prefer spending time outside, they are more exposed to such particulates; their respiratory systems are still developmental. Besides, the long-term and short-term exposure to all sizes of particulate matter proved to aggravate the asthmatic condition.

Another research says that women are more vulnerable to air pollution than men; one of the reasons is that women are more vulnerable to asthma than men. Previous studies had found out that boys before puberty were at more risk of getting asthma than girls. However, it got reversed after boys hit puberty.

The researchers at Vanderbilt University and John Hopkins found out that women were two times more at risk than men. This trend seems to continue till the women reach menopause; the asthma rates decline. Newcomb and her research team compared human cells with the mouse.

They found out that ovarian hormones like progesterone and estrogen didn’t help prevent the lungs’ inflammation when they were exposed to allergens. However, when they observed testosterone hormone cells, it stopped the swelling linked to asthma symptoms and hindered mucus production in the lungs.

Fumes generated from the combustion of fossil fuels can cause asthma. For example, all fuel-burning appliances like stoves, fireplaces, gas or kerosene space heaters create nitrogen oxides. This gas is odourless, but it can irritate your noses, eyes, and throat and aggravate asthma.

Is asthma prevalent in the United States?

Yes, asthma is prevalent in the United States. Here are a few statistics:

  • Around 25 million Americans are affected by asthma. This means that about 1 in 13 Americans, including 8 per cent of adults and 7 per cent of children.
  • Black Americans are five times more at risk than white Americans to visit the emergency department due to asthma.
  • Around 20 million U.S. adults of age 18 and over are affected by asthma.
  • Children aged from 5 to 17 missed school days mainly due to asthma. In 2013, school children had more than 13.8 million missed school days due to asthma.

I know this information can make you nervous about your health. But don’t worry, I am providing you with practical 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.

How does pollution affect our weather?

How does air pollution affect health?

How does air pollution harm the environment?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How does air pollution cause asthma?” In this blog post, we first looked into the basics of air pollution. Then, it addressed the information related to asthma. Finally, in the main, we discussed whether poor air quality causes asthma. In the end, the article provided practical solutions to lessen air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution cause asthma?

How does air pollution affect asthma?

Inhalation of the microscopic and ultrafine particles can worsen asthma and generate asthmatic symptoms in people with a weaker immune system. Both the long-term and short-term exposure to particulate pollution can reduce lung functions and cause more asthma attacks.

How does air pollution cause respiratory problems?

Exposure to airborne pollutants causes various respiratory problems such as COPD. In addition, these pollutants can cause inflammation of the epithelium layer of the lungs and the airways. Such conditions can cause throat irritation, sinusitis and bronchitis.

Can petrol fumes cause asthma?

Yes, petrol fumes can cause asthma. For instance, all fuel-burning appliances like stoves, fireplaces, gas or kerosene space heaters generate nitrogen oxides. This gas is odourless, but it can irritate your noses, eyes and throat. So it can also aggravate asthma.

How does air pollution affect the lungs of your kids?

Air pollution can affect your child’s lungs both before and after birth. For example, exposure to poor air quality can harm lung growth in the womb from childhood to late teens. In addition, children who already have asthma get worse asthma attacks when exposed to high levels of air pollution.

Can chemicals trigger asthma?

Various industrial chemicals can trigger asthma; these chemicals are as follows:

  • Adhesives
  • Plastics
  • Shellac and lacquer
  • Epoxy resins
  • Carpeting
  • Foam and rubber
  • Dyes
  • Proteins in animal hair and dander

What is the most common trigger for asthma?

The most common trigger for asthma are as follows:

  • Tobacco Smoke
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Pets
  • Pests
  • Dust Mites
  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Perfumes

Reference

Air pollution. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Available at: https://www.aafa.org/air-pollution-smog-asthma/

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

Asthma Facts and Figures. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Available at: https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/

Asthma. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asthma  

The Links Between Air Pollution and Childhood Asthma. EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/links-between-air-pollution-and-childhood-asthma

What causes asthma? American Lung Association. Available at: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/what-causes-asthma

Why do more women have asthma than men? blame hormones. ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128123358.htm  

Your questions answered on air pollution and asthma. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Conditions-Library/Asthma/Your-Questions-Answered-on-Air-Pollution-and-Asthm  

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