Air Pollution and Respiratory Illness

Air Pollution and Respiratory Illness

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In an attack of allergic asthma histamine causes:

  • walls of airways to become inflamed
  • epithilium in airways to secrete excess mucus
  • fluid to leak out of cappillaries into bronchioles
  • smooth muscle around bronichioles to contract, narrowing the airways

Asthma affects 5.2 million people in the UK. Research shows you're more likely to develop if...

  • there's a family history of asthma eczema or allergies - this combined with environmental factors influences whether a person develops asthma.
  • if a child's parents smoke during pregnancy or around their children
  • they are exposed to air pollution, infections or allergens
  • they suffer a viral infection
  • a child grows up in a very hygenic environment
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Atmospheric Pollution

The way a person responds to pollutants in the air depends on their age, health, the type of pollutant, the concentration and length of exposure to the pollutant and the activity undertaken while exposed.

If a person's health is good they are unlikely to have any serious short-term effects, but those with lung diseases or heart conditions are at higher risk.

Scientists still don't fully understand long term effects.

Reducing PM10 by half could increase life expectancy by up to 11 months which isn't a huge difference compared to the effect of smoking (non-smokers live 7 years longer)

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Types of Pollutants and their Effects


Nitrogen dioxide vehicle emissons, burning fossil fuels and biomass

Sulfer dioxide burning of fossil fuels in power stations/oil refineries

Ground level ozone when nitrogen and hydrocarbons react in sunlight

Health effects

Irriation to airways

Increases symptoms of lung diseases such as asthma

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Types of Pollutants and their Effects


Particles / PM10 (diameter <10um) combustion sources such as burning of coal and diesel; suspended soils; dusts from construction, mining and quarrying; sea salt; biological particals (pollen)

Health effects

Can be carried into the lungs causing inflammation and worsening of lung and heart diseases.

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Types of Pollutants and their Effects


Carbon monoxide Incomplete combustion of fossil fuels eg. vehicles, power stations, waste incinerators, domestic gas boilers and cookers. (50% in UK from cars).

Health Effects

Prevents normal transport of oxygen by blood. Can reduce supply of oxygen to the heart.

Worst effects on people with heart disease.

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