Effects of air pollution on health

With every breath we take, gases such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone are drawn into our airways and lungs, along with thousands of fine particles. They are deposited in the bronchi and alveoli, where they can cause both short- or long-term detrimental health effects. The smaller the particles are, the deeper they penetrate into the lungs. Extremely heavy pollutant loads frequently give rise to disturbances and diseases of the respiratory tract in children and adults (e.g. acute breathing difficulties, chronic coughing and expectoration, bronchitis and chronic bronchitis, and respiratory infections). In the alveoli, respiration and blood circulation are very closely intertwined, both anatomically and functionally. So disturbances to one system, e. g. an inflammation of the respiratory tract, may also affect the other, in this case the cardiovascular system.

In people who are already ill, air pollution imposes a further burden. The higher the air pollutant load, the briefer the respite between episodes. Contamination of the air that we breathe has the effect of reducing average lung capacity and increasing emergency consultations and hospital admissions due to respiratory disorders. Air pollution also shortens life expectancy, increasing daily and total mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.

The federally funded Swiss Literature Database and Services on Health Effects of Ambient Air Pollution LUDOK at the at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, together with other organizations such as the Swiss Cancer League, Lung Zurich and the cantonal authorities for air pollution control, has compiled the health effects of criteria pollutants in ambient air in an interactive graphic. 

Research conducted in recent years has shown that air pollution affects not only the airways and the lungs, but also the cardiovascular system.

However, new studies indicate that the health of children and adults improves quite rapidly if the atmospheric pollutant load decreases. Actions to improve air quality thus have a measurable positive effect on public health.

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Last modification 04.11.2020

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