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Impact of Air Pollution on the Human Respiratory System

Info: 2844 words (11 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Tagged: pollution

Impact of Air Pollution on the Human Respiratory System 


I. Introduction

Thesis statement: We cannot ignore the air polluted issue because it is the main reason for damaging the human respiratory system.

II. Adults’ Respiratory System

  1. Switzerland Residents
  2. Rome Residents

III. Children’s Respiratory system

  1. Embryos
  2. The Growth of Respiratory System
  3. Respiratory Disease
  4. Acute Respiratory Infections

IV. Lung Cancer

  1. Example
  2. A Kind of Carcinogen

V. Conclusion

Air Pollution Affects Respiratory System

We usually hear the news about air pollution. The news suggests that people will wear the mask in the next few days because the quality of the air will become worse. The quality of the air affects the human respiratory system. The outdoor air includes not only oxygen we need but also many pollutants that damage human health. Although many natural phenomena, such as volcanoes, fire, and so on, emit the pollutants into the atmosphere, human activities are the main cause of air pollution. Since the industrial revolution, the environment has become different from before. The quality of the air has become worse and worse. There are some pollutants in the atmosphere, such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, heavy metal, and ozone, which can damage human health. According to the World Health Organization(WHO) study, it is the air pollution that results in the major reason of death and disease for people with respiratory system problems. Over Nine of ten people breathe in air pollution. Every year, 7 million people die because of air pollution. The respiratory system is highly irritated by these pollutants. Plenty of studies prove that air pollution can harm the human respiratory systems. Lungs play important roles in the respiratory system. They are used to absorb air and promote air delivery. Some professionals analyzed short-term exposure in air pollution on mortality. They found the daily mortality has a connection with the level of air pollution. The WHO pointed out that there are about 4.2 million premature deaths. The WHO survey shows 29% of those die from lung cancer, 17% of those die from acute lower respiratory infection, 24% of those die from stroke, 25% of those die from ischemic heart disease and 43% of those die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Data from WHO) According to this information, we can conclude that air pollution is not only damaging the environment but also harming human health. We cannot ignore the air polluted issue because it is the main reason for damaging the human respiratory system.

On Adults’ Respiratory System

At the past time, people thought smoking cigarettes can affect respiratory systems. However, plenty of the adults still are infected the respiratory diseases even if they do not smoke. Many studies point out that air pollution is the main cause of respiratory diseases, rather than smoking.

Switzerland Residents

In 1991, the Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung Diseases in Adults (SAPALDIA) indicated long-term exposure in air polluted areas has a strong connection with the adults’ respiratory symptoms. This study focused on 18 to 60-year-old adults at eight study sites in Switzerland. This study considered testers for never, past, and current smokers. Tester’s age, weight, gender, genetic asthma, genetic atopy, level of education, and nationality were controlled by the researchers. In 2002, they did further study. This study wanted to know the effects on the human respiratory system when people exposed to traffic pollution. The researchers controlled testers for socioeconomic status, exposure to pollution and health-related factors. They also controlled testers living in different distances from the main streets. This study wanted to know the effects on the human respiratory systems when people lived in traffic polluted areas. Traffic pollution is the reason of air pollution. Although the development of traffic makes our lives become more convenient, air pollution is becoming worse and worse. This study indicated that it increased the rate of breathlessness and regular phlegm because of living near the main streets with traffic pollution. (SAPALDIA Team, 2006) Therefore, according to the SAPALDIA study, we get the conclusion that living near air polluted areas affects certain respiratory symptoms.

Rome Residents

In 2008, there was a research surveying 9488 Rome residents. This research analyzed 25 to 59-year-old Rome residents who lived near air polluted areas. The researchers found the residents easily suffered from chronic bronchitis, asthma, and rhinitis because they lived closer to high air polluted areas. This research pointed out that respiratory diseases especially rhinitis have a high connection with air pollution. Non-smokers are the deeper effects than smokers. (Cesaroni, Badaloni, Porta, Forastiere, & Perucci, 2008)

To sum up, we know even though people do not smoke, they are still infected with respiratory diseases because of exposure to air pollution.

On children’s respiratory system

 More and more children suffer congenital respiratory disease. Some reports point out air pollution can result in congenital respiratory disease through their mothers. When mothers are exposed to air pollution during their pregnancies, the embryos are also affected. It results that many children suffer congenital respiratory disease. Therefore, not only adults but also children are affected by air pollution.


Air pollution can affect children before they are born. When their mothers are exposed to high levels of pollutants, these pollutants can enter the embryos’ circulation through the placentas and umbilical cord blood. The researchers, in the Environmental Working Group, who collaborated with Commonweal in New York, USA, claimed that the pollutants could enter embryo bodies through their mothers. After these pollutants enter embryos’ bodies, it will increase the rate of intrauterine growth retardation, low birth weight, pre-term birth, and perinatal morbidity. “Pregnant mothers from China exposed to high levels of ambient sulfur dioxide and particulate matter pollution have been shown to have the increased risk of preterm delivery and low infant birth weights.” (Salvi, 2007, p. 276)

The Growth of Respiratory System

When children inhale the same amount of the pollutants as adults, it causes more serious effects because children’s respiratory systems do not completely develop. In addition, because children have many activities than adults, they inhale a greater amount of pollutants. Therefore, air pollution causes more serious effects on children. Most of the ambient air pollutants are chemicals. Several oxidant air pollutants are the main causes of the respiratory system. They obstruct the signals of pathways. They also have been proved to enlarge allergens, enlarge the risk of worsening asthma and reduce lung function. They also affect the growth of children’s respiratory systems. (Salvi, 2007)

Respiratory Disease

Many people suffer respiratory diseases, such as rhinitis, nose allergies, asthma, and so on, because they were exposed to the air polluted area during their childhood. According to a book called Effect of Air Pollution on Children’s Health and Development, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone in air pollution affect children’s respiratory systems. This book collected a variety of studies about the effects of air pollution on children’s respiratory system. Particulate matter causes more serious effects on asthmatics. A part of this research further showed it causes significant disadvantage effects on lung function. Long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide affects prevalence, the incidence of asthma, allergic rhinitis or atopic eczema. “Three out of four studies showed an association with bronchitis and cough while two out of three showed significant reductions in lung function.” (Krzyżanowski, Kuna-Dibbert, & Schneider, 2005, p. 77) Ozone affects the functions of the lungs. One large study showed when asthmatic children who live in high ozone concentration areas and increase the rate of incidence. Traffic-related air pollutants affect the prevalence and incidence of asthma and hay fever. (Krzyżanowski, Kuna-Dibbert, & Schneider,2005) Therefore, according to this book, we get a conclusion that many pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and so on cause respiratory infection. Furthermore, many children suffer respiratory disease because of air pollution.

Acute Respiratory Infections

Air pollution affects acute respiratory infections. Air pollution has a connection with asthma-related morbidity and mortality. Much evidence proves that the morbidity and mortality related to air pollution have a positive connection with the respiratory infection. In Europe, there were a quarter of children who were killed by acute respiratory infections in 2001. Chauhan, Chatterjee Johnston made a study that wanted to know the relationship between air pollution and the risk and severity of acute respiratory infections in children. Their study pointed out PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone in air pollution increased upper and lower respiratory symptoms in children. According to the survey, the researcher claimed children’s respiratory health can be improved when the pollutants decrease. (Krzyżanowski, Kuna-Dibbert, & Schneider, 2005)

Therefore, we can conclude air pollution results effects not only on children but also on infants through inheritance. Once the pollutants enter embryo bodies, it will keep in their bodies forever. It will affect the growth of children.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the number one cancer of death. Although smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, numerous studies prove outdoor air pollution such as emission from the vehicle and industrial sources, can cause lung cancer. Every year, there are above 200,000 people deaths because of lung cancer in air pollution. The pollutants can be divided into large size and small size. The Large size of particle pollutants affects human health, but the small size of particle pollutants is more harmful. The Larger one is defended by our natural defenses such as tears, sneeze, and cough. However, the small one cannot be defended by these natural defenses. These harmful particle pollutants enter our body and damage our health. These small particles are called particle pollution that make up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil and dust particles.

They are from vehicles, factories, burning, and so on. In 2013, WHO said the particle pollution is the main cause of lung cancer. (American Lung Association, 2016)

A kind of Carcinogen

Outdoor air pollution is classified as a cancer-causing agent by the International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC) that is a part of WHO. The IARC is a major organization that studied the causes of cancer in America. The IARC got a conclusion that outdoor air pollution has a connection with lung cancer. It also has a connection with other cancers. According to the IARC evaluation, the risk of lung cancer is increasing while the level of particulate matter is increasing. According to the Global Burden of Disease Project, air pollution killed 3.2 million people in 2010, including 223,000 people from lung cancer. (Simon, 2013) A Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Dr. Parveen Bhatti, an expert on environmental factors, claimed that when particulates enter into the air, it increases residents’ risk of cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency proved that particulate matter is the most effect on lung cancer. Bhatti said these matters with certain chemicals toxic to human DNA cause cell mutations and then induce lung cancer. (Tompa, 2017)


In China, there was an 8-year-old girl who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. She was the youngest patient with lung cancer. Her doctor claimed she suffered from lung cancer because of air pollution. In the same year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer identified air pollution is the cause of lung cancer. This agency found tiny dust-like particles called particulate matter are the key to air pollution. The tiniest particulate matter is less than 2.5 millionths of a meter across, called PM2.5. It causes lung cancer. It increases the risk of suffering lung cancer when people were exposed to the high level of PM2.5. (American Lung Association, 2016)

Therefore, according to the above of the information, we can conclude that air pollution is the main cause of lung cancer.


 To sum up, we must face up to the air polluted issue. More and more studies can prove that air pollution damages human health. Air pollution is produced by transportation, factory, agriculture, power generation, home with cooking and heating. As the technologies are developed, more and more pollutants, such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and so on, are emitted into the atmosphere. These pollutants damage the environment such as acid rain, global warming, holes in the ozone layer, and so on. They also affect human health. Although the development of technology improves human lives, human health has been damaged. When people inhale the pollutants, they may be infected a chain of respiratory diseases such as breathless, asthma, bronchitis, and so on. It even causes premature deaths. These pollutants affect not only individuals but also embryos. When mothers are exposed to air pollution during their pregnancies, they also inhale the pollutants that enter into embryo bodies. It even makes embryo death. These pollutants keep in embryo bodied. It affects the growth of children. (Salvi, 2007) The CNN report pointed out that over 95% of people are breathing unhealthy air. Health Effects Institute pointed out that there were about 6.1 million killed by air pollution in 2016. (Masters, 2018) It is an amazing statistic. Therefore, we cannot ignore the environmental issue. Air pollution is a more and more serious problem. Once human bodies are damaged by air pollution, they do not fully recover. Let us start to deal with the air polluted issue.


  • Ambient air pollution: Health impacts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/
  • The Connection between Lung Cancer and Outdoor Air Pollution. (2016, June 21). Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/about-us/blog/2016/06/lung-cancer-and-pollution.html
  • Cesaroni, G. (2008). Comparison between various indices of exposure to traffic-related air pollution and their impact on respiratory health in adults. Occupational and Environmental Medicine65(10), 683-690. doi:10.1136/oem.2007.037846
  • Gerbase, M. W. (2006). Respiratory Effects of Environmental Tobacco Exposure Are Enhanced by Bronchial Hyperreactivity. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine174(10), 1125-1131. doi:10.1164/rccm.200512-1890oc
  • Krzyżanowski, M., Kuna-Dibbert, B., & Schneider, J. (2005). Effect Of Air Pollution On Children’s Health And Development
  • Masters, J. (2018, April 17). More than 95% of world’s population breathing unhealthy air, says new report. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/17/health/world-dangerous-air-report-intl/index.html
  • Salvi, S. (2007). Health effects of ambient air pollution in children. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews8(4), 275-280. doi:10.1016/j.prrv.2007.08.008
  • Simon, S. (2013, October 17). World Health Organization: Outdoor Air Pollution Causes Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-outdoor-air-pollution-causes-cancer.html
  • Tompa, R. (2017, August 18). Links between air pollution and cancer risk. Hutch Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2017/08/air-pollution-boosts-cancer-risk.html


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Air pollution can be divided into indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution. Indoor pollution is bad indoor air quality. This can be caused by chemicals used in the home, construction materials, animal dander and dust mites. Outdoor air pollution is the bad air quality of the outdoors. Sources of outdoor pollution are human activities, car emission, ozone (smog), and lead.

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