With advancements of technology such as gas-powered automobiles, planes, factories and more, air pollution has become a major global health issue that threatens the well-being of billions of people. The most dangerous form of air pollution is called “PM2.5.” This designation refers to the tiny size of the toxic particles which penetrate deep into the lung tissue (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers). A recent study estimated that 92% of the world’s population lived in areas that exceeded the WHO Guideline for PM2.5.
The cardiovascular system is significantly affected by high levels of air pollution. When tiny particulate matter is inhaled, it enters the lung tissue and is then carried throughout the body via the blood vessels. In affected individuals, air pollution particles have been identified in every major organ of the body, including the heart. The particulate matter in air pollution increases oxidative stress, which can damage cells and impair their function. Ambient air pollution has also been linked to other serious cardiovascular conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) and stroke. The elderly and children are more susceptible to the harmful cardiovascular activity of small particles in the air.
Air pollution can also wreak havoc on the body’s autoimmune function, the system responsible for fighting off diseases. Researchers have discovered that many types of autoimmune disease are closely related to air pollution, and a recent study found that even short-term exposure to air pollutants probably exacerbates these conditions. Correctly identifying autoimmune disorders can be difficult for even the most experienced physicians because the symptoms can vary widely and mimic those of other diseases. Many people with autoimmune disorders initially receive a misdiagnosis, so who knows how common they actually are in our heavily polluted world?
Diseases affecting brain function such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are also associated with environmental factors such as air pollution. People living in urban areas where there is significant air pollution are affected by neurological diseases at significantly higher rates. Ongoing research is investigating the underlying mechanisms through which air pollution triggers neurological decline, but the evidence is clear that a relationship exists.
The most common sources of PM2.5 pollution are traffic exhaust and industrial release. To protect yourself and your family, it is crucial to be aware of the potential health risks associated with air pollution.
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