What Happens When We Breathe in Polluted Air?

In this blog post, we will discuss “what happens when we breathe in polluted air?” This article will also outline a brief description of air pollution. Then, this blog will focus in deep on how polluted air causes damage to our bodies. Lastly, this article will also throw some light on taking care when surrounded by polluted air.

What happens when we breathe in polluted air?

Every cell of your body gets affected when you breathe polluted air. Various systems are affected due to the inhalation of the poisonous chemical cocktail. These systems are as follows:

  •  Respiratory system
  •  Cardiovascular system
  •  Nervous system
  •  Digestive system
  •  Excretory system
  •  Reproductive system
  •  Skeletal system
  •  Integumentary system
  •  Immunity system

Before entering into these details, let’s look at what exactly is air pollution.

What is air pollution?

The presence of toxic elements in the air you breathe is called air pollution. These harmful elements are pollutants; they can be available in liquid droplets, solid particles or a gaseous state. These contaminants can be biological as well as chemical in nature. These pollutants, which you inhale, can originate from nature or human activities. Particulate matter (PM), SOx, NOx, VOCs, ground-level ozone are some pollutants present in the air. These contaminants can cause detrimental effects on human health.

Let’s see how this breathed polluted air affects the human body.

Which organs get affected due to breathing polluted air?

Air pollution affects you from head to toe. The systems which get affected due to breathing polluted air are as follows:

Respiratory system

Your respiratory system consists of organs and tissues that help you carry out the inhalation and exhalation process. These organs comprise your airways, lungs and blood vessels. These sponge-like lungs are responsible for absorbing a large amount of air that you breathe. In addition, they are in close contact with your blood vessels which carry out the function of oxygen transport to your whole body.

Your respiratory system is one of the systems to get majorly affected due to polluted air. When you inhale, you take in oxygen and other dangerous pollutants too. This system is vulnerable to air pollutants as it comprises a mucous membrane covering its internal surface.

Contaminants such as ground-level ozone, metals and free radicals can damage cells of your lung tissue. For example, ozone can affect the air sac of your lungs, which are responsible for the exchange process of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Poor air quality also affects your airway tissues. The bio-activation enzymes present in these tissues transform organic pollutants into reactive metabolites. This process can be responsible for lung injuries, neuro-behavioural disorders and even breast cancer.

Particle pollution can cause inflammatory responses to your respiratory system. Therefore, such a type of pollution can be responsible for pulmonary inflammation.

Airway inflammation also affects your response to the irritants such as cold air, dust, dirt and allergens. These actions may cause impairment of lung function. This is the particular reason why there are rising cases of asthma worldwide. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and sore throat are other effects on the respiratory system.     

Cardiovascular system

The second-most system affected due to air pollution is your cardiovascular system. This is because the airborne pollutants, along with oxygen, gets easily absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, such polluted bloodstream circulates in the body.

While air pollution can bring small changes in blood pressure and other blood parameters, prolonged exposure to particulate pollution can cause the acute coronary syndrome, heart failure, ischemic stroke and cardiovascular mortality. Medical researchers also noticed that cases of arrhythmias increase with a surge in air pollution levels. Contaminants such as CO, NO, SO2 and PM are responsible for such conditions.

Nervous system

The polluted air you breathe in can affect your nervous system badly. It can directly affect your central nervous system (CNS). Air pollution also causes conditions such as neuroinflammation and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Such processes affect multiple CNS pathways.

Neuroscience research has observed that when children and older citizens are exposed to polluted air, they exhibit signs of cognitive dysfunctions. There has also been a rise in the cases of stroke incidences and mortalities in recent years. This situation is all because of the degrading air surrounding you. 

Air pollution is also linked to severe signs of neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The brain health of children is affected the most. Children exposed to high air pollution can develop autism, AHDHD, lower IQ and other neurobehavioral problems. Recent studies also suggested that poor air quality can affect children’s academic performance. In addition, air pollution can lead to memory loss in kids. In the older population, air pollution can accelerate ageing.

Digestive and Excretory System

Inhaled polluted air can create problems in your digestive and excretory systems too. In addition, air pollution can cause gut inflammation causing damage to good bacteria. Thus, poor air quality may not make you feel “light and fresh” every morning.

 Air pollution is also responsible for other gastrointestinal disorders. Infection of the gastrointestinal tract due to polluted air can also cause a risk of obesity and diabetes. Poor air quality is also responsible for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Reproductive system

Air pollution is responsible for varied hormonal fluctuations in your body. Multiple studies in medicine have concluded that air pollution affects the fertility rate. Unfortunately, it also leads to birth complications, infant congenital disabilities and stillbirths.

It has also been reported that semen and sperm quality gets severely affected due to air pollution. Exposure to high dioxin levels can disrupt the healthy growth of the womb and lead to spermiograms in males. 

Skeletal and Integumentary System

Air pollution not only affects your organs and tissues but also affects your skeleton. Bones in your body can get brittle. Radioactive pollution also affects your bones and joints. Pollution can cause swelling of bone joints and even bone cancer.

Skin also acts as a giant sponge that absorbs all the toxins. As a result, it can lead to age spots, chronic skin inflammation, ageing, pimples, acne and psoriasis. Air pollution also has a direct impact on hair health. If you live in any region having poor air quality, you can experience hair fall. In addition, air pollution can affect scalp health and hair follicles.

Immune system

As mentioned earlier, bad air quality affects every cell of the body. As a result, our immunity system gets compromised. As a result, you can sometimes feel dizzy, can get nose and throat infections. Your eyes may also get dry and itchy. As a result, you can be more susceptible to infections. Again, this all happens due to a compromised immune system.

Well, this is what happens when you breathe in polluted air. Unfortunately, the effects sound too severe and problematic. But, not to worry, you can avoid all these issues by following some simple steps. So let’s look ahead to see what it is.

What to do next?

A sustainable lifestyle is key! Here’s how you can have:

  • Promote local produce:

 Buy local products more often. In this way, you are reducing the carbon footprint of logistics. Local foods also boost your metabolic activities, strengthening your immunity system.

  •  Good mask:

 It’s anytime better to invest in some good masks rather than paying bills on medicines and hospitals.

Masks I recommend:

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced Nanotechnology  User Friendly More DurableSix layers face mask Filter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene.
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers maskFlexible nose pad, dual straps Disposable mask Easy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cottonSkin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filter Reusable Mask
  •  Air purifier:

You can improve your indoor air quality by installing an air purifier in offices and homes.

Air purifiers I recommend are

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.
  •     Good diet

A well-balanced diet can do wonders for your body. First, make sure you are constantly hydrated. Drink at least 3-4 litres of water daily. Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.

Anti-inflammatory foods which I will suggest are:

  • Turmeric
  •  Blueberry
  •  Leafy Vegetables
  •  Beetroot
  •  Avocado
  •  Celery
  •  Almonds
  •    Carrots
  • Berries
  •   Broccoli
  •  Good external hair and skincare:

As much as it is necessary to stay fit inside, it is also essential to take care externally. Brush your hair frequently. Oil massage and brush your hair twice a week. Wash your face twice a day. Also, brush your teeth twice a day. Do cut your nails often.

  • Exercise:

Physical and breathing exercises can help you to increase your lung capacity. You can perform Surya namaskars to boost your immunity and breathing abilities. Breathing exercise or pranayama can help to strengthen your respiratory muscles.

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

What are the causes and consequences of air pollution?

Does Air Quality affect sleep?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of air pollution?


In this blog post, we discussed “what happens when we breathe in polluted air?” This article also outlined a brief description of air pollution. Secondly, this blog focussed in deep on how polluted air causes damage to our bodies. Lastly, this article also threw some light on taking care when surrounded by polluted air.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What Happens When We Breathe in Polluted Air?

Which disease is caused by breathing in polluted air?

A high level of short term and long term exposure to air pollution can cause damage to your health further. The most common diseases caused by air pollution are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and acute lower respiratory infections in children.

Can you recover from air pollution?

Your body recovery depends upon how much duration you are exposed to polluted air. If you are exposed to poor air quality for some time, it may take a few days to recover. However, if you are exposed to high levels of unhealthy air for a long time, its side effects can be present for months or even years.

What is most affected by air pollution?

People of different colours, senior citizens, children with asthmatic conditions and marginalised people are affected by air pollution. Moreover, patients having existing heart and lung conditions are sensitive to air pollution. 

What are four different symptoms in the human body that are caused by air pollution?

Four different symptoms in the human body that are caused by air pollution are as follows:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  •    Increased asthma
  •  Wheezing
  •   Reduced oxygen to vital organs

Does bad air quality make you tired?

Yes, bad air quality makes you tired. Many reports suggest that people feel sluggish during high levels of air pollution. In addition, exercising in polluted air makes people tired.

What are the global effects of air pollution?

The global effects of air pollution are as follows:

  •  Acid rain
  • Global warming
  •  Smog
  • Ozone depletion

Where is the cleanest air in the world?

According to the latest World Air Quality Report, Puerto Rico has the world’s cleanest air.


Anand, A., n.d. Skeletal System – Health Effects of Pollution – By Ajai Anand. [online] Pollution-affecting-us.weebly.com. Available at http://pollution-affecting-us.weebly.com/skeletal-system1.html

Babadjouni, R., Hodis, D., Radwanski, R., Durazo, R., Patel, A., Liu, Q. and Mack, W., 2017. Clinical effects of air pollution on the central nervous system; a review. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, 43, pp.16-24.

Carrington, D., McMullan, L., Blight, G., Roberts, S. and Hulley-Jones, F., 2021. Revealed: air pollution may be damaging ‘every organ in the body. [online] the Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/may/17/air-pollution-may-be-damaging-every-organ-and-cell-in-the-body-finds-global-review 

McGraw, P., Kandel, A. and Smit, J., 2014. Air pollution, digestive tract disorders and the connection between them. [online] Air Quality Matters. Available at https://alankandel.scienceblog.com/2014/02/26/air-pollution-digestive-tract-disorders-and-the-connection-between-them/ 

Romer Skincare. 2021. How does air pollution affect your skin, and what you can do about it? – Romer Skincare. [online] Available at https://www.romerskincare.com/how-does-air-pollution-affect-your-skin-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

Steff, R., 2009. Air Pollution Affects Respiratory and Cardiovascular System. [online] Disabled World. Available at https://www.disabled-world.com/health/respiratory/air-pollutants.php 

Taft, N., 2019. How air pollution impacts our brains. [online] Fuel Freedom Foundation. Available at https://www.fuelfreedom.org/air-pollution-brain-impact/

US EPA. 2021. Particle Pollution and Cardiovascular Effects | US EPA. [online] Available at https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/particle-pollution-and-cardiovascular-effects#:~:text=%20Exposure%20to%20inhaled%20fine%20particles%20appears%20to,effects%20on%20the%20autonomic%20nervous%20system.%20More%20

US EPA. 2021. Particle Pollution and Respiratory Effects | US EPA. [online] Available at https://www.epa.gov/particle-pollution-and-your-patients-health/health-effects-pm-patients-lung-disease

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