How does smog affect your well-being?
According to WHO, nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air and the annual death toll attributed to smog is 7 million people. In the 15 countries with most air pollution, the costs connected with smog-related health problems amount to around 15% of the nations’ GDP. Scientific research exhibits a negative influence of bad air quality on the condition of our bodies but also on our mental health. In what exact ways is our well being affected by smog?
Depending on the intensity and time of exposure, in the long run, smog decreases life expectancy by increasing the risk of myriad diseases such as lung cancer or cardiovascular problems. However, the air we breathe also influences our health on a daily basis, and since we tend to react more decisively when faced with the immediate danger, it is important to be aware of the short-term consequences of smog exposure.
The influence of air pollution on our bodies
It is intuitive to think that smog has a negative effect on the respiratory system since, most of the time, it is the first organ system to interact with the inhaled pollutants. Aside from long term problems, bad air quality can cause immediate symptoms such as irritation of the nose and airways and coughing. Ozone, which is one of the ingredients of air pollution, affects the risk of developing asthma and substantially increases symptoms in people who already suffer from this disease. Studies also suggest that it may hinder the immune response to bacterial infections of the respiratory system, which means that it can potentially make such infections more frequent or severe.
However, air pollution also impacts the condition of other parts of our body in many ways. Another ingredient of smog – the particulate matter, especially the incredibly tiny PM 2.5 type, can penetrate the lung barrier and through blood make its way to various organs such as the brain and the heart. This, in turn, increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Although a relatively new object of study, the impact of bad air quality on the nervous system has also been researched. Aside from increasing the risk of strokes, on a daily basis smog can also trigger symptoms such as headaches and negatively impact our memory and ability to concentrate. The latter has been observed in studies such as the one conducted in 2011 on a group of schoolchildren in Michigan, USA. While examining the reaction of our bodies to air pollution, it is also worth remembering that such response varies from individual to individual and thus the full scope of health problems caused by smog is incredibly difficult to outline.
The influence of air pollution on mental health
A study that shows the correlation between smog and mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression was conducted in the USA and Denmark by PLOS Biology. The reviews of the publication stress its shortcomings and a need for further research, nonetheless, a relation between air pollution and suicide attempts and reports of depression was also observed in Canada. There are also studies that suggest that particulate matter has the potential to cause brain inflammation and oxidative stress that can lead to depression.
A study conducted in 2015 in Chicago, has revealed a correlation between the levels of air pollution and rates of crimes involving violence, which hints that smog may also influence people’s behavior by triggering aggression.
Although a part of the research on the topic conducted so far is based on correlation and needs further examining, the negative impact of smog on our well-being in the short term and on our health in the long term cannot be disputed. Addressing this problem is important as fighting air pollution will not only increase the quality of life but also lower the financial and social costs of diseases related to bad air quality.
Ali, A. N. and Khoja A. (2019) Growing Evidence for the Impact of Air Pollution on Depression. NCBI [online] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6447209/. Accessed 30 December 2019
Ćwik, P. (2017) Ozon:groźny dla dzieci, osób starszych i astmatyków. SmogLab.pl [online] Available at: https://smoglab.pl/ozon-grozny-dla-dzieci-osob-starszych-astmatykow/. Accessed 30 December 2019
EPA (1999) Smog – Who does it hurt? What you need to know about ozone and your health.[online] Available at https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/health/smog.pdf Accessed 30 December 2019
Jędrak, J., Konduracka, E., Badyda, A. J. and Dąbrowiecki, P. (2017). Wpływ zanieczyszczeń powietrza na zdrowie. [ebook] Krakowski Alarm Smogowy. Available at: https://krakowskialarmsmogowy.pl/aktualnosci/szczegoly/id/334 [Accessed 30 Dec. 2019].
Khan A, Plana-Ripoll O, Antonsen S, Brandt J, Geels C, Landecker H, et al. (2019) Environmental pollution is associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders in the US and Denmark. PLoS Biology [online] Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000353. Accessed 30 December 2019
Lasowski, E.R.(2017) Does air pollution make outdoor exercise risky? What if you have asthma or another health problem? Mayo Clinic [online]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/air-pollution-and-exercise/faq-20058563. Accessed 30 December 2019
WHO. How air pollution is destroying our health [online]. Available at: https://www.who.int/airpollution/news-and-events/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health. Accessed 30 December 2019.
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