How Poor Air Quality Can Harm Your Health

We are all aware of the smoke drifting into the Northeastern U.S. from Canadian wildfires, and the related alerts about poor air quality.

“US areas including the Northeast have experienced an unprecedented degree of air pollution, with New York City reaching the highest pollution level in the world by June 7, 2023, with an Air Quality Index (AQI) close to the maximum level of 500,” noted Philippe Chahinian, MD, a doctor of internal medicine and an oncologist.

How does poor air quality harm one’s health?
Many of the health issues people see from poor air quality, in general, can overlap with health issues people see from wildfire smoke. 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.

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:

  • 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. 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.

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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