How poor air quality hurts your health (2023)

Air quality advisories were in effect for 110 million people in the United States on Wednesday morning, ranging from New Hampshire to South Carolina and covering the Northeast, including Boston, New York City and Philadelphia.

In the Northeast, the poor air quality is the result of wildfires raging in eastern Canada, sending smoke wafting into the U.S. In some areas, the smoke is so dense that people can smell it and the skies appear hazy.About 90 million people in the U.S. are impacted by the smoke.

Beyond the Northeast, high concentrations of ground-level ozone — also known as smog — are driving unhealthy air quality levels in a number of urban areas across the country.

Follow live coverage on U.S. air quality conditions and Canada's wildfires

What causes poor air quality?

Poor air quality can be caused by any airborne “irritant” — a particle or substance in the air that is harmful to a person to breathe in, according to Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Network, an advocacy group for people with asthma, allergies and related conditions.

Some examples are air pollution, including from vehicles and carbon emissions, as well as rising ozone levels, she said.

Natural disasters, like wildfires, often cause short-term spikes in poor air quality as the smoke, which contains carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals, enters the atmosphere.

Especially concerning is small particulate matter — tiny particles in the air that measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or roughly 4% of the width of a strand of hair. These particles are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream.

(Video) How poor air quality impacts health, according to a doctor

Here are a few options for face masks if you need to be outside:Disposable,KN95andN95.

The Environmental Protection Agency uses the air quality index to report air quality. It ranges from 0 to more than 300, with levels 50 and below considered the healthiest. When levels exceed 150, the general population may start to experience symptoms.Over 200 is considered "very unhealthy."

How poor air quality hurts your health (1)

How can poor air quality hurt health?

Many of the health issues people see from poor air quality, in general, can overlap with health issues people see from wildfire smoke, said Dr. Wynne Armand, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate director of the MGH Center for the Environment and Health.

Air pollution from wildfire smoke can make breathing difficult for anyone, but especially for young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory conditions, she said.

Dr. Aida Capo, a pulmonologist at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, said on Wednesday that she's already seen an influx of patients because of the poor air quality, including patients with worsening symptoms of asthma or emphysema.

"It's an almost immediate effect," Capo said. "If you're outside for any length of time, your symptoms can start and can worsen quickly."

In the short term, wildfire smoke can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, as well as an increased risk of respiratory infection. Studies have also found that short-term exposure to small particulate matter increases the risk of a range of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Longer term, exposure to air pollution is associated with several chronic health conditions, including:

(Video) How poor air quality affects your health

  • Severe asthma
  • Preterm birth
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Dementia
  • Lower IQ in children

Smoke can be especially dangerous for pregnant women because they usually have diminished lung capacities due to their growing bellies, Parikh said.Exposure to air pollution during the first and second trimesters may also be associated with gestational diabetes, according to a study published in March.

Additionally, air pollution can harm a developing fetus and increase the risk of low birth weight, miscarriage and stillbirth. A global analysis found that air pollution likely contributed to nearly 6 million premature births in 2019.

Does wildfire smoke make allergies worse?

While smoke itself is not an allergen, it can irritate the nasal passages and airways.

“If you have allergies on top of that, you’ve got two different things causing symptoms at the same time,” said Dr. Stokes Peebles, an allergy and pulmonary specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Symptoms may also worsen depending on what’s burning. If a person is sensitive to an environmental allergen, such as trees or grass, breathing in the smoke that results from burning that allergen may cause a reaction.

What’s more, heat can cause pollen to rise and be airborne for longer periods of time, spreading those particles even hundreds of miles away, Peebles said. “They can travel farther than they would ordinarily because they go higher into the atmosphere.”

An N95 mask can help block those particles for people especially prone to environmental allergens, Peebles said.

How can I protect myself when the air quality is bad?

Experts advise checking air quality alerts regularly., the EPA's website, allows people to track air quality by entering their ZIP codes. Many smartphones have apps that also track air quality.

(Video) How Indoor Air Quality Affects Your Health

Brady Scott, a fellow at the American Association for Respiratory Care, a professional organization for respiratory therapists, recommended that people stay indoors as much as they can, with doors and windows closed. That includes for activities like exercise, which can cause stress on the lungs.

People with respiratory-related health conditions, including asthma, should monitor their symptoms closely, he added. They should also make sure their medications, like inhalers, are available or not expired.

“People know their bodies really well. If they see some changes they believe are related to bad air, perhaps they need to contact a physician or advanced practice provider,” Scott said.

Capo, of Hackensack Meridian Health, recommended that people with asthma use their rescue inhaler 15 minutes before they go outside.

How poor air quality hurts your health (2)

Parikh advised people to keep their homes well ventilated. People who need to go outside can wear a mask, such as an N95, she said.

“Believe it or not, masking just like we did with Covid can be helpful in acting as a barrier between you and reduce the amount of particulate matter that you breathe in,” she said.

Armand advised against dusting or mowing your lawn on days when the air quality is poor. Burning candles or using a gas stove can also contribute to poorer air quality on these days.

People should seek medical attention if they experience a cough, trouble breathing, chest pain or wheezing or hear a whistling sound in the chest, Parikh said.

(Video) Air Pollution: How It Affects Us, Prevention and Treatment.

Do air filters help with wildfire smoke?

Indoor air filters can help reduce or remove pollutants, including small particulate matter from wildfire smoke.

Indoor air filtration, including HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and portable air purifiers can also help scrub pollutants that may have traveled inside homes and other buildings.

People can purchase portable air cleaners with replaceable HEPA filters that strain out small particulate matter, or PM2.5. HEPA filters are also available for homes outfitted with central heating and cooling systems. California’s Environmental Protection Agencyrecommends using an indoor air cleaneranytime theair quality indexhits “unhealthy” levels, or if people see or smell smoke in the air.

But people can alsomake their own indoor air cleanersby attaching an air filter to a box fan with tape, brackets or a bungee cord. If window air conditioning units, HVAC systems or portable air cleaners are not available, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said “DIY air cleaners” can serve as “a temporary alternative to commercial air cleaners.” The agency cautioned that DIY air cleaners should not be used routinely, and that concerns have been raised about the potential fire or burn risk involved if box fans overheat.

The EPA added that there is limited research on the effectiveness of DIY air cleaners, but a study published in July 2021 in thejournal Aerosol and Air Quality Researchfound that low-cost filtration methods, including attaching a filter to a box fan, “can have significant benefit for filtering submicron smoke particles and may reduce exposure to PM2.5 during wildfire smoke events.”

Is poor air quality bad for pets?

Absolutely, according to Parikh.

“Other mammals, they suffer from many of the same lung conditions that humans do,” she said.

Scott said people should keep their pets — such as cats and dogs — indoors as much as possible.

(Video) How Indoor Air Quality Impacts Your Lungs

“If pets are outside, they’re running around outside or if they’re spending most of their time outside, it seems like it would probably create some irritation in their breathing and their airways and lungs as well,” he said.

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How poor air quality hurts your health? ›

Exposure to air pollution can affect everyone's health. When we breathe in air pollutants, they can enter our bloodstream and contribute to coughing or itchy eyes and cause or worsen many breathing and lung diseases, leading to hospitalizations, cancer, or even premature death.

What are the side effects of unhealthy air quality? ›

  • Eye irritation.
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing.
  • Irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tract (coughing)
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
  • Aggravation of existing asthma, heart and lung conditions.
Nov 30, 2022

What are 5 poor air quality health symptoms? ›

Poor indoor air quality can cause health effects that are similar to those of common cold or influenza. These symptoms include itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, dizziness, and fatigue. They're often short-term and easily treatable.

Can bad air quality make you sick? ›

Poor indoor air quality can cause a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, headache, burning eyes, or skin rash. People with asthma or other breathing problems or who have allergies may have severe reactions.

What are 3 major effects of poor air quality? ›

Short-term exposure to fine particles in the air can aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase the risk of respiratory infections. Scientists have also linked short-term exposures to heart attacks and abnormal heartbeats.

How can I tell if the air in my house is bad? ›

9 Warning Signs That Your Home Has Poor Air Quality
  1. Cough and Congestion. One of the biggest factors in whether or not air quality is considered poor is the concentration of particles it contains. ...
  2. Fatigue and Dizziness. ...
  3. Frequent Illness. ...
  4. Headache. ...
  5. Hyperactive Allergies. ...
  6. Mucus Membrane Irritation. ...
  7. Nausea. ...
  8. Respiratory Issues.
Mar 11, 2016

What helps with poor air quality? ›

What You Can Do to Help Improve Air Quality
  • Drive your car less. ...
  • Reduce gas consumption. ...
  • Keep your car in good repair. ...
  • Turn off your engine. ...
  • Stop at the click. ...
  • Fuel your vehicle in early or late hours. ...
  • Don't burn your trash. ...
  • Plant and care for trees.

Why is air quality worse at night? ›

This is because, as the temperature drops during the nighttime hours, the atmosphere traps car emissions, CO2, and other pollutants in the house and down near the ground – and the effect is much worse if spaces inside the home are poorly ventilated.

How long does it take to recover from bad air quality? ›

If the air quality is especially poor, it may take a few days for your body to recover. And if you're regularly exposed to high levels of unhealthy air, the health consequences can linger for months or even years.

Can bad air quality affect you indoors? ›

Health effects associated with indoor air pollutants include: Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

What are the 4 major indoor air pollutants? ›

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Formaldehyde/Pressed Wood Products. Lead (Pb) Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Does rain improve air quality? ›

Rain might ruin a picnic, but when it comes to air pollution, it can actually be a really good thing. This is because, on rainy days, most of the common air pollutants and pollen in the air are washed away, helping to increase the quality of the air. This phenomenon is called Wet deposition.

What are the long-term effects of poor indoor air quality? ›

Both short- and long-term exposure to indoor air pollution can cause a range of health issues, including respiratory diseases, heart disease, cognitive deficits, and cancer.

What is extremely poor air quality? ›

The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.

Which internal organ is badly affected by air pollution? ›

The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.

What are 3 illnesses caused by air pollution? ›

Household air pollution exposure leads to noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

What are two types of diseases caused by polluted air? ›

Air Pollution: Asthma and lung cancer Water Pollution: Diarrhea and cholera Noise Pollution: Hearing problems and Hypertension
  • Name two diseases caused by air pollution and water pollution.
  • A disease caused by the noise pollution is.
  • Name five diseases caused by air pollution.
  • What is meant by noise pollution ?

How can I purify the air in my house naturally? ›

Simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality include: Reduce dust by vacuuming regularly and using a microfiber or damp cloth for dusting. Reduce humidity to avoid mold and mildew buildup and change appliance filters regularly. And make sure to test your home for dangerous gases like radon.

What happens if you never open your windows? ›

When windows are kept closed and there is insufficient air circulation inside, condensation can form on the panes. If ignored, this moisture can create serious problems. Mold, bacteria, and other toxins can start to build up and possibly cause illness in those living in the home.

Do air purifiers really work? ›

Air purifiers can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in indoor environments to some extent, but the EPA notes that a purifier alone will not provide full protection against the virus. A 2022 study found that devices with HEPA filters are reasonably successful at filtering out airborne COVID-19.

Does drinking water help with bad air quality? ›

Stay Hydrated

It is vital that you do as much as you can to stay hydrated and make sure you have a regular water intake as much as possible. Hydration can have such a major impact on the way you breathe and can help to protect you against poor air quality.

How can I test the air quality in my home? ›

How to test indoor air quality
  1. Purchase an indoor air quality monitor.
  2. Evaluate health symptoms.
  3. Monitor carbon monoxide levels.
  4. Get an air purifier.
  5. Call an air quality professional.
Feb 24, 2023

Do masks help with air quality? ›

Masks are certainly a good option to protect yourself against air pollution, but the most effective way to stay safe from hazardous air quality is to stay indoors. Monitor the AQI for your area through air quality monitoring apps like Air Visual or even your own device.

How can I improve my air quality while sleeping? ›

We recommend using air purifiers, such as purifier humidifiers, purifier fans and purifier heaters, to take control of your bedroom environment. Dyson purifiers use HEPA H13 filtration and capture ultrafine dust and allergens.

How can I clean the air in my room? ›

8 Ways to Clean the Air in Your Home
  1. Let fresh air in. Keep windows open as much as possible. ...
  2. Add some plants. ...
  3. Stop using scented candles. ...
  4. Replace filters. ...
  5. Tackle the dust. ...
  6. Monitor humidity levels. ...
  7. Make your home smoke free. ...
  8. Renters' rights to clean air.
May 9, 2018

What time of day is air pollution lowest? ›

In particular, it peaks between 7:00 to 10:00 AM (LST) and 9:00 to 11:00 PM (LST). On the other hand, it's lowest in the afternoon, particularly between 3:00 to 5:00 PM (LST).

Can bad air quality make you depressed? ›

The review of research found evidence that air pollution is associated with an increased risk of depression symptoms and suicidal behaviors. They also found, through neuroimaging studies, evidence for associated structural and functional changes in the brain.

What are symptoms of air quality? ›

According to the National Weather Service, exposure to air pollution could lead to headaches; irritated eyes and sinuses; fatigue; difficulty breathing; chest pains and asthma attacks; and irritated throats and increased coughing.

Is it bad to walk in bad air quality? ›

Poor air quality, which refers to more polluted than clean air, can make outdoor exercise unsafe. It's not a good idea to do outdoor exercise in bad air quality when the quality is at an “unhealthy” level or higher. However, based on your health and other factors, it may be possible for you to exercise safely indoors.

Should you close windows when air quality is bad? ›

To keep air as clean as possible inside your home they recommend people keep their windows and doors shut. Pollutants that are outside can easily find their way inside.

Is air quality worse inside or outside? ›

In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.

What type of people are more vulnerable to air pollution? ›

Research has shown that some people are more susceptible than others to air pollutants. These groups include children, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with pre-existing heart and lung disease.

What is the number 1 indoor air pollutant? ›

The Environmental Protection Agency has noted that excess moisture, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and radon are four major indoor air pollutants. They result in damp and stuffy houses.

What lung disease is caused by poor air quality? ›

Asthma, COPD, lung cancer and respiratory infections all seem to be exacerbated due to exposure to a variety of environmental air pollutants with the greatest effects due to particulate matter (PM), ozone and nitrogen oxides.

What is the number one indoor air pollutant? ›

Excess Moisture

Moisture is one of the most important and least recognized indoor pollutants, affecting both human health and the health of the building.

How does air quality affect the body? ›

Both short- and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to a wide range of diseases, including stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, trachea, bronchus and lung cancers, aggravated asthma and lower respiratory infections.

How does air quality affect the brain? ›

Air pollution has been linked to a variety of serious mental and physical health problems in adults, including anxiety, depression, and neurodegenerative disorders. In terms of cognitive health, studies suggest that exposure to elevated particulate matter levels can lead to significant short-term cognitive declines.

Does indoor air quality affect health? ›

Health effects associated with indoor air pollutants include: Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

How long does it take to recover from poor air quality? ›

If the air quality is especially poor, it may take a few days for your body to recover. And if you're regularly exposed to high levels of unhealthy air, the health consequences can linger for months or even years.

What are the symptoms of dirty air in the house? ›

Poor indoor air quality may cause headaches, tiredness, coughing, sneezing, sinus congestion, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. It can irritate the skin, eyes, nose or throat. Allergy or asthma symptoms could get worse.

Where is worst air quality in the world? ›

Air quality and pollution city ranking
Major cityUS AQI
1Dhaka, Bangladesh160
2Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel156
3Chengdu, China154
4Lahore, Pakistan152
96 more rows
6 days ago


1. WHO: Breathe Life - How air pollution impacts your body
(World Health Organization (WHO))
2. Poor air quality? Doctor shares 5 things you should do
(CBS News)
3. Poor Air Quality Affects Physical, Mental Health
(NBC Bay Area)
4. What health precautions to take as wildfire smoke affects air quality #shorts
(CBC News)
5. Toronto has poor air quality right now. How much of a health risk does that pose?
(CBC News)
6. Negative impacts of smoke inhalation in dangerous air quality on health
(Eyewitness News ABC7NY)


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