Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Air Pollution-Related Illness


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details

What is air pollution-related illness?

Air pollution-related illness is a medical problem caused or made worse by air pollution. It is one type of environmental lung disease.

  • Air pollution can affect anyone, but children are more sensitive to it

  • Air pollution can cause cough and breathing problems and make lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), worse

  • You’re more likely to have problems from air pollution if you live in a high traffic area, such as a city

  • Indoor air can be polluted if you use a fire or wood-burning stove for cooking or heating or if people smoke

What causes air pollution?

Common causes of air pollution include:

  • Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, gasoline, oil, and natural gas

  • Ozone, which is formed when sunlight reacts with chemicals in the air that came from burning fossil fuels

  • Burning certain fuels, such as wood, animal waste, and crops, for heating or cooking indoors

  • Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, particularly indoors

Levels of air pollution change throughout the day. You can see how polluted the air is by checking the Air Quality Index. This is a scale from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to rate how much pollution is in the air.

How can doctors tell if I have an air pollution-related illness?

Doctors will look at:

  • What air pollution you may be breathing

  • Your symptoms

  • Breathing tests

  • Your health history, such as if you have asthma or COPD or if you are a smoker, and if symptoms gets worse when you breathe polluted air

How do doctors treat air pollution-related illness?

Doctors treat your symptoms. Treatments may include:

  • Asthma medicines to open the airways

How can I prevent air pollution-related illness?

Employers should follow guidelines on limiting the amount of gases, dust, and fumes they produce. Employees should follow guidelines on how to limit exposure to pollutants in the workplace.

People, particularly children, older people, and people with heart or lung disorders, should limit their time outside when the air quality is poor.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read

Test your knowledge

Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes
Polyglandular deficiency syndromes are hereditary disorders in which several endocrine glands (ie, glands that secrete hormones) malfunction together. Which of the following is the most appropriate treatment for these types of disorders? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID