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Harmful effects of Air Pollution: Lung Disease, Eye Disorders, Kidney Disease

Harmful effects of Air Pollution- Pollution has become a common term to be heard everywhere these days. We hear a lot about it on mass media as well as read in the newspaper regarding the various ill effects pollution is causing to our environment. Air pollution is one of the forms of pollution which involves the physical, biological and chemical alteration of the air in the atmosphere. Air pollution affects everything, from people, other animals to the environment causing many long terms and short hazardous effects.

harmful effects of air pollution
NEW DELHI, INDIA – NOVEMBER 7: Children cover their face to take precaution from the air pollution by a mixture of pollution and fog at NCR region on November 7, 2012 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)


  1. Burning of Fossil fuels: Combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and other factory combustibles emit sulfur dioxide which is the major cause of air pollution. Overuse of vehicles for transportation is killing our environment. Incomplete combustion of fossil fuels gives rise to carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, which are another major pollutants of air.
  2. Agricultural activities: Insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers used in the agricultural activities give rise to ammonia which is one of the most hazardous gases in the atmosphere.
  3. Exhaust from factories and industries: These days manufacturing industries can be found in the every corner of earth and these industries release large amount carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds and chemicals into the air and deplete the quality of air. Hydrocarbons released from petroleum refineries also adds to the air pollution.
  4. Mining operations: During the mining process to extract minerals below the earth, a lot of dust and chemicals are released in the air causing massive air pollution which also deteriorates the health conditions of workers and nearby residents.
  5. Indoor air pollution: Toxic chemicals are emitted during the household cleaning products, painting supplies etc. cause air pollution and makes it impossible to breathe. The suspended particulate matter caused by dust and combustion etc. is another cause of pollution.

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF AIR POLLUTION can be divided into two categories: 

Short-term Health effects

Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat as well upper respiratory infections like bronchitis are caused by the irritants from air pollution. Asthma, headache and nausea are few other health effects related to air pollution.

Long-term Health effects:

  1. Chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart diseases and damage to the nervous system, liver and kidneys are all related to serious health hazards of air pollution.
  2. Smog and Acid Rain: Release of toxic gases like sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides can lead to smog and acid rain, when these gases undergo chemical reactions in the air. Smog and acid rain have detrimental health effects and can damage plants, soil and bodies of water.
  3. Agriculture and forests: Crops and forests get damaged because of air pollution which can contaminate and destroy the food supply. Air pollution slows the growth of the forests and can even cause them to die which brings imbalance in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the environment.
  4. Global warming: Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitric oxide are greenhouse gases, which traps the heat from the sun and increases the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. This can lead to dramatic climate changes on the whole earth’s ecosystem like increased temperatures worldwide, increase in sea levels, melting of icebergs, displacement and loss of habitats.
  5. Eutrophication: High amount of nitrogen from the nearby agricultural lands and from other pollutants enters into the water bodies like lake, seas and oceans. This leads to excessive growth of green colored algae in them which adversely affect the fish, plants and animals species.
  6. Ozone Depletion: Chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons emitted from refrigerators and other electronic devices are depleting the protective ozone layer because of which harmful UV rays from the sun can reach on the earth and cause skin and eye related problems. These rays affect the crops also.


Lung Disease: Asthma, COPD, Pneumonia, Emphysema, Bronchitis and Lung Cancer are few of the respiratory diseases caused by high levels of air pollution. The muscles in airways of the lungs contract, narrowing the airway (airway hyper reactivity) because of the pollutants present in the air.

  1. Asthma: Ground level ozone, sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxide are the major air pollutants that trigger this disease. These pollutants constrict the smaller airways in the lungs and make breathing difficult which can set off a serious life threatening attack of asthma.
  2. COPD: Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the common types of COPDs in which the air sacs lose their shape and become distended or floppy due to long term exposure to air pollutants. Sulfur dioxide and other combustible fossil fuels cause the airways to become inflamed and constricted, causing breathing difficulty and chest pain.
  3. Lung Cancer: Long term exposure to combustion generated fine particulate matter poses a significant risk of pulmonary cancer as a lot of carcinogenic particles are present in the polluted air which enters the body through inhalation and causes the abnormal growth of cells which can develop into tumors and impair the lungs.
  4. Eye Disease: Air pollution can affect the eyes in various ways from simple irritation and burning sensation to severe allergy. The most common symptoms are-
  • Dryness
  • Allergic reaction (eyelid swelling, inability to open eyes, conjunctivitis, ulcers)
  • Burning sensation,
  • Watery Eyes,
  • Ropy Discharge,
  • Itchiness,
  • Difficulty in vision due to watering and itching etc.
  • Dry Eye Syndrome: Smog and lack of humidity in highly polluted areas lead to dry eyes in which either the tear production in the eyes are low or the evaporation of the tears is very high which ends up in inflamed eyes.

It has been reported that high levels of pollutants like nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the air make the tear film of the eyes more acidic.

Chronic Kidney Disease: Recent studies have shown that dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquids in polluted air, when inhaled by people can enter into their bloodstream. When the air is taken in and the particles from the polluted air reach the kidney passing through the lungs via bloodstream, the filtration of blood is done by the kidney and during this process, these particles cause inflammation and oxidative stress within the blood-filtering organs. This makes the kidney unable to filter blood effectively and a person requires dialysis to stay alive.

On a worldwide basis several attempts are being made on personal, industrial and governmental levels to control the intensity of increase in the Air Pollution and regain a balance between the environmental gases. To see a better tomorrow, we need to take the challenge of eradicating air pollution which is one of the larger mirrors of man’s follies. To curb air pollution some major steps need to be taken as use of public mode of transportation, conservation of energy and forests, strongly implementing the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle as well as emphasis on clean energy resources.

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