In Australia, we’re lucky to have low-levels of pollution, but overseas is another story. Internationally, there is rising alarm about high pollution levels and its impact on public health.
What is pollution, and what effects does it have on health?
Pollution comes from various sources and may include dust, mould, chemical sprays and toxins, but the pollution we read about in the media is what we commonly call ‘smog.’
The technical term for smog is ground level ozone, and it occurs when sunlight combines with chemical pollutants from vehicle and industrial emissions. That’s why smog is more common in highly populated industrial cities and is more prevalent in summer or warm climates.
Smog levels are highest at the end of the day - after a day’s emissions and heat.
Frequent exposure to ground level ozone pollution is known to have negative health implications in both the short and long term.
How can air pollution affect me?
Air pollution has a strong effect on people with existing respiratory or health issues like asthma, bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Smog aggravates these conditions and may intensify symptoms; coughing, wheezing and inflammation or trigger an asthma attack.
More general effects in healthy people include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and an increased chance of respiratory infection. Those most likely to be affected are the very old, very young, pregnant women and people who work or exercise outdoors in high-smog areas.
Long term health impact of pollution exposure
The negative effects of long-term pollution exposure are becoming a real public health concern. Some potential health risks of long term pollution exposure include:
- Reduced lung capacity
- Decreased lung function
- Greater likelihood of respiratory illness and infection
- Aggravated cardio vascular illness
- Premature aging of the lung tissue
- Shortened life span
Many people feel unable to escape the risk of environmental pollution, with good reason. However, there are some things that may help reduce the impact of pollution on your health.
What you can do to lower your risk
- Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) in your city or town. Use a website like this as a guide: http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.international
- Manage the time and place where you exercise; eg. exercise outdoors in the morning only. Don’t exercise near busy roads or industrial areas, and not at all if the AQI is high
- Avoid being outdoors in the early afternoon or evening, especially on hot days
- Don’t smoke (!!)
- Cleanse your respiratory tract often; use a saline solution, eucalyptus steaming or a neti pot
- Try natural foods, herbs and supplements known to improve or support respiratory health
You can also improve the air quality in your home: keep indoor plants, limit your use of chemical sprays, reduce the burning of wood, gas, candles or incense and invest in a home air purifier*.
*These steps don’t directly address smog, but will improve the air quality your breath most often to help support and respiratory system.