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Lung Diseases Caused By Breathing In Polluted Air

We are breathing in dirty air every day and the pollutants that enter deep into our lungs can cause serious damage to the respiratory tract. According to a new study titled "State of Global Air 2019", exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.

Another data by the Global Burden of Disease 2017 showed that every three minutes, a child dies in India. In 2017, around 1,95,546 children lost their lives because of air pollution, which means 535 deaths happened daily on an average.


Long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to certain lung conditions such as asthma, lung cancer, COPD, and so on.

Lung Diseases Caused By Breathing In Polluted Air

1. Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs which causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Dust particles, smoke, pollen and volatile organic compounds trigger asthma attacks, but the most common outdoor air pollutants that trigger asthma attacks include carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to air pollutants not only causes inflammation, but also alters the functioning of the lungs [1] .


Foods To Eat And Avoid If You Have Asthma

2. Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation or swelling of the bronchial tubes (bronchi), the air passages between the mouth, nose and lungs. Exposure to dust and fumes from the environment, vapour and air pollution causes bronchitis. According to a study, outdoor nitrogen dioxide was the primary risk factor for chronic bronchitis among females [2] .

3. Emphysema

Emphysema is a chronic disease in which the tissues of the lungs are destroyed and unable to effectively transport oxygen throughout the body.

According to a new study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) showed that long-term exposure to air pollution increased the risk of emphysema [3] .


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is most commonly caused due to smoking, however, the high incidence of COPD among non-smokers is associated with indoor air pollution from biomass combustion and second-hand tobacco smoke and also outdoor air pollution [1] .

Make These Lifestyle Changes To Prevent COPD

5. Lung cancer

Cigarette smoke is the leading cause of lung cancer, however, cigarette smoke isn't the main cause of lung cancer. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), outdoor air pollution and particulate matter are carcinogenic to humans [4] .

6. Respiratory infections

Respiratory infections in children and adults due to prenatal and perinatal exposure to air pollutants is a rising concern. According to a study, air pollution increases the severity of respiratory infections in children. Outdoor air pollution in large cities is linked to various acute respiratory infections which is responsible for nearly a third of all deaths in children under 5 years of age [5] .

View Article References  
  1. [1]   Kurt, O. K., Zhang, J., & Pinkerton, K. E. (2016). Pulmonary health effects of air pollution. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine, 22(2), 138–143.
  2. [2]   Sunyer, J., Jarvis, D., Gotschi, T., Garcia-Esteban, R., Jacquemin, B., Aguilera, I., … Künzli, N. (2006). Chronic bronchitis and urban air pollution in an international study. Occupational and environmental medicine, 63(12), 836–843. 
  3. [3]   Meng Wang, Carrie Pistenmaa Aaron, Jaime Madrigano, Eric A. Hoffman, Elsa Angelini, Jie Yang, Andrew Laine, Thomas M. Vetterli, Patrick L. Kinney, Paul D. Sampson, Lianne E. Sheppard, Adam A. Szpiro, Sara D. Adar, Kipruto Kirwa, Benjamin Smith, David J. Lederer, Ana V. Diez-Roux, Sverre Vedal, Joel D. Kaufman, R. Graham Barr. Association Between Long-term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Change in Quantitatively Assessed Emphysema and Lung Function. JAMA, 2019; 322 (6): 546
  4. [4]   Loomis, D., Huang, W., & Chen, G. (2014). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation of the carcinogenicity of outdoor air pollution: focus on China. Chinese journal of cancer, 33(4), 189–196.
  5. [5]   Chauhan, A. J., & Johnston, S. L. (2003). Air pollution and infection in respiratory illness. British medical bulletin, 68(1), 95-112.

Story first published: Saturday, October 19, 2019, 16:00 [IST]
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