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How Air pollution affects your lungs?

Everyone has the right to breathe clean air! Clean air is essential for human health. Air pollution is a term used to describe lots of different pollutants in the air around us. Nobody is safe from this pollution, which comes from five main human sources.

These sources release a wide range of harmful substances including carbon monooxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ground level ozone, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. Understanding the different types of pollution, and how it affects our health and environment will help us take steps towards improving the air around us.

Where does air pollution comes from?

Residential: indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels to cook, heat and light homes.

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Neighbourhood: lawn mowers, dry cleaners, bonfires, BBQ, auto body shops.

Industrial processes: coal-burning power plants, diesel generators, burning of old rubber tires by brick kilns, industrial processes also pollute the air.

Transportation: on road vehicles such as cars and trucks pollute air. Harmful emissions from transport have been linked to premature deaths. Almost half of all deaths by air pollution from transport are caused by diesel emissions.

Agriculture: The major sources of air pollution from agriculture include livestock, which produces methans and ammonia, rice paddies, and the burning of agricultural waste. Methane is the main component of ground-level ozone, which causes asthma and other repiratory illnesses. Methane is also a more detrimental global warming gas than carbon dioxide.

Waste burning: open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful toxins, methane, and fine particulate matter like black carbon into the atmosphere.

Other sources: Not all air pollution comes from human activity. Volcanic eruptions, dust storms and other natural processes also cause environmental and health problems.

Types of air pollutants

Air pollution is a term used to describe lots of different pollutants in the air around us. These include:

Particulate matter: it comes in different sizes (coarse and fine) and from a number of sources, including:

  • Dust and other small particles from construction, mining, and agriculture.
  • Fossil fuel combustion by factories, power plants, and diesel and gasoline vehicles. It is also released into the air from brake pads on cars.
  • Wildfires and wood burning for home heating.

Acute exposure to particulate matter can result in short-term impairment of lung function and possibly death. Long term exposure can result in serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancers, and possibly death.

VOCs: Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases that are emitted into the air from products or processes. They can react with other gases and form other air pollutants after they are in the air indoor and outdoors. Some of these sources continue to produce VOCs when they are stored or transported. VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. It can also cause breathing difficulties and nausea.

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VOCs come from a number of sources, which includes:

  • Building materials - paints varnishes, sealants, adhesives, flooring, carpet and pressed wood products.
  • Home and personal care products - cleaners, disinfectants, furniture, pesticides, air freshners, cosmetics and deodorants.
  • Lifestyle - tobacco smoke, dry cleaning, arts and craft products such as glues, markers, wood burning stoves, BBQ smoke, office printers and copiers.
  • Outddor sources - gasoline, diesel emissions, wood burning, oil and gas extraction and processing and industrial emissions.

NOx: Nitrogen oxides are a group of seven gases and compounds of nitrogen and oxygen, sometimes collectively known as NOx gases. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides react with substances in the air to form acid rain.

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Nitrogen oxides are also used to produce rocket fuels and explosives. It is emitted from various sources, which includes:

  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Burning of coal, oil, diesel fuel, and natural gas, especially from electric power plants.
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Gas stoves
  • Kerosene heaters
  • wood burning

SOx: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a gaseous air pollutant composed of sulfur and oxygen. It forms when sulfur containing fuel such as coal, oil or diesel is burned. It is emitted from various sources, which includes:

  • Electricity generation
  • Industrial boilers
  • Industrial processes such as petroleum refining and metal processing
  • Diesel engines in old buses and trucks, locomotives, ships and off-road diesel equipment
  • Coal power plants

CO: Carbon monooxide or CO is an air pollutant that affects health and in high concentrations is very deadly. It binds with hemoglobin in the blood, reducing its ability to carry oxygen and thereby starves vital tissues of oxygen. People with weaker immune systems and previous health problems are affected the most by high CO levels.

How smog is formed?

Smog is a specific type of air pollution that reduces visibiity. It is a combination of harmful polluants that are released into the atmosphere by both natural and human activities.

Smog is composed of particulate matter and ground level ozone. Ozone that is formed naturally in the atmosphere ( good ozone) protects life from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. At ground level, however, ozone is harmful to humans, animals, plants, and man-made materials. Ground-level ozone is bad ozone. It is createdwhen gases such as NOx, SOx, CO react with VOCs are combined with sunlight and heat.

How air pollution harms your lungs?

Having too much smog can be harmful to our health. Exposure to it can make existing health issues, such as allergies, asthma, COPD worse, and can decrease lung function.

When smog is inhaled, it can dry out and inflame the protective membranes of the nose and throat. Inflamed airways can also decrease the lung's working capacity. If smog levels rise in atmosphere, so do the number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions. It can even cause premature death.

Smog contains pariculate matter. The smaller the particulate matter, the deeper it can be inhaled, which makes fine airborne particles dangerous. Larger particles usually settle in the mouth and nose, while fine particles can get stuck in the lungs. Once in the lungs, the particles can decrease the lungs' working capacity and aggravate respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. WHen there is more particulate matter in the air, death rates are higher.

When people inhale ozone and particulates from the air, their arteries tighten, which reduces the blood flow ( and oxygen supply) to the heart.

Pulmonology Clinic:

If you have any unusual symptoms such as shortness of breath, throar and eye irritation, excess mucus production, chest pain etc kindly visit Pulmonology Clinic at Bilal Hospital for checkup and a suitable treatment plan.