Effects Of Air Pollution

10 Top Major Effects Of Air Pollution 

Today, air pollution remains a prevalent issue in our world. The effects of air pollution can be long-term or short-term. Air pollution is brought about by the release of pollutants in high amounts into the environment.

Burning fossil fuels, manufacturing plants, energy use, industrial activities, and even household activities contribute to air pollution. Pollutants in the air, such as sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide, are harmful to the environment and living beings. 

WHO estimates that nine out of 10 people inhale high amounts of contaminated air that exceeds the daily limit. WHO also estimates about 7 million deaths yearly from air pollution worldwide.

Pollution is higher in urban areas because of industrial and household activities. What are the effects of air pollution on the environment, humans, and the ecosystem? This article will discuss in detail the effects of air pollution on human health and the environment.

Top Effects Of Air Pollution

The effects of air pollution can be long or short-term depending on the amount and duration of exposure. Short-term effects of air pollution include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, cough, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, and fatigue.

Respiratory diseases, cardiovascular problems, liver and blood damage, nervous damage, cancer, birth defects, and death are all possible long-term effects. In this article, we will discuss in detail the effects of air pollution. 

  • Damage to the ecosystem 
  • Respiratory diseases 
  • Cardiovascular diseases 
  • Cancer 
  • Neurological disorders 
  • Impaired immune system 
  • Damage To The Ecosystem

Air pollution causes damage to the ecosystem by the production of:

  • Acid rain 
  • Destruction of plants and organic life

Acid Rain

Acid rain is one of the consequences of air pollution. Rain becomes acidic from the accumulation of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that are emitted into the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide are mainly released into the environment by burning fossil fuels and vehicle exhaust.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide react with water and oxygen to form sulfuric and nitric acid while serving as transport medium for these acids. Sulfuric and nitric acid fall to the ground as wet predispositions known as acid rain. 

Acid rain causes a lot of damage to soil, aquatic life and other biotic environments. A recent study shows the impact and effects of long-term exposure to sulphate on human health. According to an article published by the Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine, it states that people who are exposed to sulphate and its compounds have risks of cardiovascular disease with a reduction in heart rate. 

However, investigation is ongoing to further understand the health risks. The effects of acid rain are also an environmental issue as water bodies become so acidic that they inhibit the growth and development of aquatic species. 

Calcium and other important minerals required for the growth of crops, trees and other green species are washed off due to acid rain.

The loss of calcium and other minerals leads to damage and death of affected greens. Finally, calcium and other solid minerals are destroyed, and toxic ions are released which seep into groundwater, making it unsafe for consumption or use. 

Harm to plants and organic life

Plants that grow in air-polluted areas experience stunted growth and development over a long period. Air pollution destroys plants by damaging the stomata located on the ventral side of plants.

The stomata allows for the uptake of CO2 and releases oxygen into the environment. The stomata is very sensitive to damage particularly caused by air pollution.

Some plants can protect themselves by closing up their’s temporarily or by producing antioxidants. Others are destroyed or underdeveloped because of being robbed of essential nutrients.

The impact of air pollution in the agricultural sector is devastating as it leads to destruction and delayed growth of crops, which are causes of food scarcity and inflation.

Animals that stay in areas with high levels of air pollutants experience some of the negative effects of air pollution. Some of the negative effects include respiratory and neurological disorders. 

2. Respiratory Diseases 

Air pollution has short-term and long-term effects on the respiratory system. Short-term effects of air pollution on the respiratory system include runny nose, dry cough, productive cough, nasal congestion, dry mouth and throat, non-allergic rhinitis, sinusitis and runny nose.

Chronic effects of air pollution arise from long-term exposure. Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to higher chances of lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Although air pollution is said to be a contributing factor to causes of lung cancer and COPD, research has shown that the chances are higher in certain groups of people. Individuals with pre-existing vascular or respiratory diseases, children, toddlers, individuals with genetic problems, and the elderly are more vulnerable. 

3. Cardiovascular Problems 

Inhaling air containing pollutants is not only dangerous to the lungs but to the heart as well. Air pollutants can travel through the lungs to the heart and over time cause irreparable damage to the heart and circulatory system. The diameter of blood vessels becomes narrower and this causes blood to flow at a higher pressure. This puts a lot of strain on the heart muscle. 

Cardiac arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, can be caused by air pollutants impacting the heart’s electrical conductivity. Long-term exposure to air pollutants can lead to heart failure as air pollutants cause abnormal changes in heart structure and function.

Stroke is not directly related to air pollution but individuals with pre-existing heart conditions that are constantly exposed to air pollutants are at higher risks of stroke or heart attack.

4. Cancer 

According to researchers, there is a link between air pollution and lung cancer. It also linked air pollution to other forms of cancers such as breast endometrial, colorectal, pancreatic and liver cancer.

There is a study that discusses the link between air pollutants, especially particulate matter and an increased risk of breast cancer. This is more common for women who reside in areas that have high particulate matter levels than women in areas with low particulate matter levels.

Air pollution, specifically high levels of pollutants like ozone and particulate matter, can lead to skin cancer by damaging the skin barrier.

5. Neurological Disorders 

The effects of air pollution on the central nervous system can be severe if not detected early. Air pollution can cause severe neurological disorders because of inflammation of the CNS. The brain is one of the most susceptible organs to the absorption of air pollutants and particulate matter. 

Although studies and research are still ongoing to fully understand the mechanism by which pollutants can affect the central nervous system, they establish that air pollution can cause neurological diseases. Neuronal cell damage can occur in fetuses and newborns due to particulate matter, possibly resulting in long-term brain damage or neurological disorders. 

This is possible as air pollutants can migrate through the nasal tract, gastrointestinal tract and blood-brain barrier but the most direct route is the olfactory tract. Nitrogen oxide and other air pollutants are known to cause neuroinflammation and oxidative stress.

These air pollutants can cause poor brain development and increased chances of neurological disorders such as dementia, stroke, depression, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and ADHD.

6. Impaired Immune System 

The primary function of the immune system is to protect the host against pathogens and infections by recognizing and neutralizing pathogens. Long-term exposure to air pollutants can lead to the immune system being overwhelmed.

The lymph nodes around the lungs appear black and swollen in contrast to lymph nodes in the GIT and other organs of the body. When the immune system is overwhelmed, it weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and makes individuals more prone to respiratory illnesses like COPD, lung cancer, and bronchitis.


We have our roles to play in ensuring that the world is air pollution-free. However, it is important to first understand the causes or triggers of air pollution and tackle it from the roots. This is a key step in controlling air pollution.

As citizens, it is our responsibility to do our part in preventing air pollution. To make a difference, we need to carpool, plant trees, avoid burning garbage, and conserve energy. Also, it is advised to regularly check air pollution levels in residential areas if high, contact the relevant authorities in your country. 

Factories and power plants should be monitored and limited in their release of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Other methods of energy generation such as solar and wind power, which are environmentally friendly, should be used. These methods are more effective in the prevention of air pollution. Check out the 8 Top Fastest Growing Trees In North Carolina.

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