7 Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

Air pollution is the release of substances in an amount considered to be harmful to the environment. This consists of chemicals or particles in the air that can damage the health of humans, animals, and plants. It also damages buildings and infrastructure. Pollutants in the air take different forms. This includes gaseous, solid particles, and liquid droplets.

Pollution enters the Earth’s atmosphere in many different ways. Most air pollution is created by people, in form of emissions from factories, cars, planes, or aerosol cans.

Second-hand cigarette smoke is also considered air pollution. The effects of air pollution on human health has known to cause about 7 million premature deaths annually around the globe.

These man-made sources of pollution are known as anthropogenic sources. While some types of air pollution, such as smoke from wildfires, ash, gases from volcanic eruptions; and gases, like methane, which are emitted from decomposing organic matter in soils, occur naturally. These are called natural sources.

Research has shown that air pollution is a major environmental risk factor for diseases, from Alzheimer’s disease to lung cancer to osteoporosis, and can significantly reduce lifespan and quality of life.

Air pollution accounts for extensive damages to public health, as well as vast economic losses due to healthcare costs. The effects of air pollution on human health has known to cause about 7 million premature deaths annually around the globe.

Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health

Air pollution is the major environmental trigger that is associated with a lot of diseases, which include respiratory conditions such as lung cancer and asthma; also neurological diseases like  Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease; a variety of psychological conditions; and a slew of other outcomes, including disrupted fetal growth, autism, retinopathy, and low birth weight.

With this myriad of air pollution-associated health outcomes, many studies have looked to quantify the impacts that air pollution has on the general population.

The effects of air pollution are not created equal,  as certain populations tend to be more vulnerable to the negative health impacts of air pollution, such as children, elderly individuals, and those with pre-existing heart and lung disease.

According to research children tend to be more sensitive and vulnerable to air pollution for a variety of reasons: the presence of narrower airways and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, and they are more active outdoors for longer periods, causing them to breathe in more air pollution than adults typically do and tender development of their lungs and alveoli

Also due to poor air quality, those in low regions are more susceptible to impacts of air pollution as a result of higher exposure to criteria air pollutants due to their proximity to industrial facilities and other channels of air pollution.

Below are some of the effects of air pollution on human health

  • Effect on Eye Health
  • Neurological Effect
  • Effect on Respiratory Health
  • Effect on Digestive System
  • Effect on Reproductive Health and Fertility
  • Effect on Cardiovascular Health
  • Effect on Bone Health

1. Effects on Eye Health

The eyes as a sensitive organ of the body with a particularly high level of blood flow, making them more sensitive to damage caused by air pollution, especially the small components of fine particulate matter that can circulate in the body after being inhaled.

Air pollution has been associated with a variety of eye issues, including dry eye syndrome and asymptomatic eye problems. Research on this connection suggests that air pollution can irritate the eyes through the irradiation of automobile exhaust.

2. Neurological Effects

Many series of research regarding the connection between poor air quality and neurological and cognitive health outcomes have been released in recent years.

As a result of the research, it has been suggested that schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, dementia, and cognitive decline all occur at a higher frequency with exposure to various air pollutants.

Children’s brain development has been discovered to be impacted by exposure to high levels of ambient air pollution while they are in the womb because the brain is still developing at this time and air pollution can cause permanent brain damage

Specific pollutants, such as lead, have also been discovered for their connection to learning disabilities, memory impairment and retardation, hyperactivity, and antisocial behaviors or attitudes in children. Also for the aged high air pollution exposure can lead to cognitive impairment.

A study has also discovered that exposure of adults to nitrogen oxide is the main cause of stroke. In the same line, short-term exposure to PM10 and sulfur dioxide has been studied to be associated with an increased risk of stroke.

3. Effect on Respiratory Health

The respiratory system is in the first line of battle with diseases resulting from air pollutants as a result of it being the passage through which pollutants enter the body.

The connection between air pollution and respiratory health is perhaps best understood in the very many negative health impacts which can be seen in the respiratory system because it acts as the first line of defense against air pollutants inhaled into the body.

In the particulate matter seen in the atmosphere, the actual size of particles determines how deleterious air pollution is to respiratory health. Particulate matter is been generally divided into PM10 and PM2.5. PM2.5 contains finer particles that can penetrate deeper into the lungs and body.

While smaller particles can reach the lower respiratory tract and thus can cause heart and lung disease. Research has also shown that Particulate matter can cause premature death to individuals with already existing heart and lung disease if exposed to and inhaled.

Some of the respiratory results of particle pollution include:

  • Lung and airway inflammation
  • Respiratory infection
  • Reduced lung function and growth in children
  • Wheezing, Cough, phlegm
  • Premature death

4. Effects on Digestive System

Research has discovered an association between air pollution exposure and a series of gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), appendicitis, and intestinal infections in infants.  In Animal studies, it has been discovered that inhaled particulate matter pollution can alter the microbiome composition within the body.

5. Effect on Reproductive Health and Fertility

Enormous studies have shown that air pollution exposure has a distinct effect on reproductive health and fertility. The male reproductive health of human has been discovered to be impacted by air pollution studies shows that poor air quality can affect semen quality and could cause sperm DNA damage thereby leading to infertility in men.

This relationship is likely related to the concentration and duration of exposure to air pollutants. In the case of the female, exposure to high levels of air pollution in the womb can also lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality

Furthermore, animal and human studies suggest that air pollution may create damage during the reproductive process of gametogenesis, therefore decreasing reproductive capacities.

6. Effect on Cardiovascular Health

Many studies have demonstrated the direct association between air pollutant exposure and cardiac-related illnesses. Research has shown a distinct link between air pollution exposure and worsened cardiovascular health. Air pollution is also related to changes in white blood cell counts which also may affect cardiovascular functions.

On the other hand, a study on animal models suggested a close relationship between hypertension and air pollution exposure. The traffic-related air pollution, especially exposure to high levels of NO2, is associated with right and left ventricular hypertrophy.

7. Effect on Bone Health

According to research born mass has been discovered to be affected by exposure to t ambient air pollution, perhaps due to particle inhalation causing inflammation in the body and oxidative stress which ultimately affects bone health.

In a study conducted on osteoporosis and bone fractures which were caused as a result of air pollution, it was discovered that populations exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter had lower bone mineral density as well as higher hospitalization rates for bone fractures.

Some regions of the world already suffer from osteoporosis. And increased poor air quality will cause a higher level of health damage to them


Air pollution is a prevalent environmental health hazard that has major impacts on human health, triggering, and inducing many diseases leading to high mortality rates and morbidity, particularly in the developing countries of the world.

And this overtime is on the increase as a result of an increase in human activities in the environment.  Therefore, air pollution control is vital and should be on the top priority list of governments. Some air pollution is not seen, but its pungent smell alerts you.

The challenge of air pollution cannot be tackled unless there is an introduction of more environmentally friendly instruments both for industries and personal usage. Also, cities, countries, and regions of the world should endeavor to implement proper mitigation measures such as laws and regulations related to air pollution.

An effective body should be set up and fully funded for adequate development, administration, and monitoring of the environment about air pollution. This is a major threat to global health and prosperity.

Air pollution, in all forms, as earlier stated the environmental menace is responsible for more than 7 million deaths each year globally, a number that has increased over the past two decades.

Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health – FAQs

What is the worst effect of air pollution on human health?

Exposure to polluted air poses a variety of significant threats to human health which range from an increase in respiratory infections, heart disease, cardiovascular disorder, lung cancer, etc, to the death of individuals.

Does air pollution promote airborne diseases?

The airborne disease has been known to be a disease obtained as a result of inhalation of contaminated. so in a way can also be said to be caused by air pollution. for example, when there is a gaseous release from an infectious vehicle, it can travel along air currents, linger in the and eventually when they are inhaled by someone leads to air-related illness such as asthma.


Environmental Consultant at Environment Go! | + posts

Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.

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