What air pollution does to your body and brain
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
We have no choice but to breathe the air around us.
But the machines we use and policies that governments enact transform that air. Cars fill the air with the exhaust they pipe out, factories and power plants belch residue into the sky, and city apartment buildings pump out chemicals they use to heat and cool residences. In many places, trees that could help improve air quality have disappeared.
All of this has effects on human health, and some of these effects can be scary.
Bad air does more than just making it harder to breathe. It can change the way children's brains develop and make older adults more likely to succumb to cognitive decline.
This is an urgent, global problem - 98% of cities with populations over 100,000 in low- and middle-income countries don't meet the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality standards.
Even in the US, with relatively high standards for air quality, there's evidence that people are breathing air that has a negative effect on their bodies and brains.
Here's what air pollution does to your health, and why you should pay attention to the quality of the air around you.
Kids who are exposed to poor air early in life are more likely to develop asthma and struggle in school, and there are indications this early-life exposure may harm cognitive development.
There are strong indications that air pollution affects kids before they are born if their pregnant mothers breathe polluted air.
Kids who breathe poor air do worse on academic tests.
And these cognitive effects continue to build up throughout life, with elderly people who breathe bad air more likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer's.
There's lots of data showing that poor air quality increases asthma and lung disease rates.
There are also indications that people exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more likely to develop allergies.
Air pollution from wildfire smoke kills around 15,000 people per year in the US, through heart disease, lung disease, asthma, and other respiratory problems.
Exposure to ozone pollution increases the rates of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks.
Air pollution makes the health effects of heat waves far worse.
Air pollution raises lung cancer rates.
Air pollution has significant effects on life expectancy, especially in developing nations.
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