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A program of the American Lung Association of the Southeast

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Health Impacts of Air Pollution

Group of Young Friends EmbracingExposure to many pollutants in the air can result in a range of adverse health effects from shortness of breath and asthma attacks to heart attacks and lung cancer.

Natural defenses protect our lungs from germs and large particles like dust and pollen. Air pollution harms lung tissue directly and bypasses or weakens those important defenses. Air pollution can make your eyes water, irritate your nose, mouth and throat, and make you cough and wheeze. But most important, it can worsen lung diseases like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. It can even kill.

Click here to learn about the health effects of ozone.

Click here to learn what are the health effects of particulate matter.

Click here to learn how air pollution  affects our health.

Who is at risk?

Someone in every family is likely to be at risk from air pollution. Does someone you love belong to one of these vulnerable groups?

  • People with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema;
  • Infants, children and teenagers;
  • People who work or exercise outdoors ;
  • Adults 65 years old and older;
  • People with a cardiovascular disease;
  • People with diabetes* (particle pollution only) ;
  • People who work or are active outdoors;
  • People with low incomes; and
  • “Responders” – otherwise healthy individuals who feel the impact of air pollution at lower levels of exposure than the average person (ozone pollution only).
  • Anyone who lives where particle pollution levels are high is at risk. Some people face higher risk, however.

* Diabetics face increased risk at least in part because of their higher risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2010 study examined prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in relation to fine particle pollution in 2004-2005. The evidence suggested that air pollution is a risk factor for diabetes.