Can air pollution cause asthma, sore throat?

·Editorial Team
·3-min read
NEW DELHI, INDIA  NOVEMBR 17: Commuters out on the road on a smoggy day, at Shadipur, on November 17, 2021 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Commuters out on the road on a smoggy day, at Shadipur, on 17 November, 2021, in New Delhi, India. (PHOTO: Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

This article is part of the Yahoo series ‘Sustainability: Fact/Myth’

You may not be able to see them but they can take a toll on your health or even kill you.

From vehicle pollution, wildfires to fossil fuel burning, the air around us is increasingly becoming more toxic and harmful than ever.

Air pollution can impact almost every organ in the body. Due to their small sizes, some air pollutants are able to penetrate into the bloodstream via the lungs and circulate throughout the entire body.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), almost all – 99 per cent – of the global population breathe in air that exceeds its guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants. People from low- and middle-income countries suffer from the highest exposures.

The WHO estimates that some 8 million people worldwide die prematurely every year because of air pollution – 4.2 million due to exposure to ambient, or outdoor, air pollution and 3.8 million due to household exposure to smoke from dirty stoves and fuels.

Both types of pollution could lead to increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.

Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women are especially more susceptible to air pollution-related diseases. 

The WHO said that evidence has shown that air pollution exposure is linked to a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, diabetes, and neurological diseases. 

Even sore throat, aggravated asthma

Air pollution can also raise the risk of cataracts – specifically exposure to household air pollution – sore throats, and aggravate asthma.

A US study shows that young campers with moderate to severe asthma were 40 per cent more likely to have acute asthma episodes during high pollution summer days than on days with average pollution levels,

In New Delhi, the recent air quality in India's capital has been hovering between "severe" and "hazardous”. Emissions accumulating from fireworks on Diwali and stubble burning had led to hospitals across the city seeing a spike in patients coming in with sore throats, runny noses, serious asthma, and others.

Fossil fuels, such as coal and crude oil, are primary contributors to air pollution and have a broader impact on climate change and global warming. When they are burned, they release nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, which contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.

A study published in April found that air pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for nearly one in every five deaths worldwide. Sixty-two per cent of such deaths are in coal-reliant China and India.

Countries around the world recently took a step towards curbing the use of fossil fuels during the recent COP26 climate talks among 197 nations. But their commitment hit a major roadblock when China and India issued last-minute objections to COP26's global commitment to “phase out” the fossil fuel, with signatory nations settling for one committing to “phase down” instead.

Despite the setback at COP26, every individual should strive to do a part in combating air pollution. 

Think sustainability and commit yourself to adopt environmentally friendly routines on a daily basis, ranging from using greener modes of transport such as cycling, recycling products to eating less meat. 

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