19 Tips to Protect Yourself from the Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution can have harmful effects on our health. Read on and find out what they are and how to prevent them.
19 Tips to Protect Yourself from the Effects of Air Pollution

Last update: 27 May, 2022

The effects of air pollution on health are no longer a vague threat, but something very real to protect yourself from. Non-governmental organizations, state institutions, and international bodies are unanimously warning about this.

Year after year, millions of people are affected by allergic, respiratory, and even cardiac problems due to poor air quality. From a runny nose and bronchial cough to death.

In addition to working to reduce emissions of gases and particles, we must try to protect ourselves in places and at times when air quality is affected. To that end, we provide some recommendations in this article.

What is air pollution and how does it occur?

Air pollution is defined as the presence of toxic substances, as well as various particulates, in the air. These include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide, dust, building, and other materials, and even radioactive elements.

Such substances and elements can be harmful to humans and animals when breathed in. They can also be deposited in plants, soil, and water.

Several factors can cause air pollution. Some of them have to do with natural causes; for example, volcanic activity, unprovoked forest fires, windblown dust particles, sandstorms.

But, to a large extent, air pollution is due to the release of substances into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. This ranges from transportation, factories and the construction industry, to the burning of solid waste.

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Air pollution levels

PM (particulate matter) concentrations are the indicator used to determine if there’s air pollution present. Generally, measurements establish daily or annual averages of these particles per cubic meter (m3) of gases.

However, some of these particles are 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10) and others are 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5). PM10 can penetrate and lodge in the lungs, but PM2.5 is even more harmful to health, as it can pass through the lung barrier, entering the bloodstream.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) reports, adverse effects have been found at levels of 3 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3 or mpcm) for PM2.5 particles. And this is only slightly higher than the average concentration in both the United States and Western Europe.

But it’s not just about the particles. It’s also important to know the composition of the air in terms of carbon monoxide, as well as sulfur and nitrogen dioxides. These shouldn’t exceed the following levels:

  • CO: 9.4 particles per million for an 8-hour period
  • SO2: 0.075 ppm over 4 hours
  • NO2: 0.1 ppm in one hour
Air pollution over a city.
Human activity is primarily responsible for air pollution, especially in cities.

Health effects of air pollution

While certain levels of air quality may not affect the general population, there are groups that are particularly sensitive. This includes people with allergies or respiratory disorders, people with heart disease, older adults, pregnant women, and children.

Contact with polluted air can cause or trigger a variety of symptoms, such as eye and nose irritation, sore throats, bronchial coughs, and fatigue. On the other hand, chronic exposure to polluted air increases the risk of developing certain diseases. Among these are allergic rhinitis and asthma.

It’s estimated that every year more than 7 million people die worldwide due to certain pathologies (stroke, lung cancer, and heart attacks) which have been complicated by air pollution. In particular, research has found that increases in SO2 and NO2 are associated with a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Continue reading about it at: 6 Everyday Actions that Contaminate the Environment

Tips to protect yourself from the effects of air pollution

Here are some tips to protect yourself from the effects of air pollution and prevent health damage.

1. Be aware of the news

These days, we have several ways of accessing information. Take advantage of this and get information about occurrences such as forest fires, and find out when the air is unhealthy.

2. Stay indoors

The next thing to keep in mind, especially for the most vulnerable people, is not to expose yourself to polluted air, thus avoiding particle pollution. It’s advisable to stay indoors in homes, offices ,or vehicles when the air isn’t suitable.

3. Airtight spaces

We must keep everything closed if pollution levels are high outside our homes. People with allergies or respiratory problems should make sure that doors and windows close tightly and are as airtight as possible.

4. Air purifiers

One option to consider is air purifiers to reduce pollution, as well as the concentration levels of various particles. They can be very useful for allergy sufferers, helping to prevent or mitigate symptoms.

5. Adjust the air conditioner

In some cases, you have the option of adjusting the air conditioner so that the air recirculates internally, preventing outside air from entering.

6. HEPA filters

In both air conditioners and heating systems, it’s advisable to use HEPA filters. They’re considered more efficient at absorbing small particles. Also, these filters should be changed regularly.

7. Use of extractors

We recommend that you use extractors, especially when cooking, to help dissipate smoke and any odors that people are allergic to. This is especially important if the doors and windows remain closed.

8. No smoking

Air quality begins at home. Therefore, we should never pollute the inside of our houses by smoking or allowing others to smoke. In enclosed spaces, smoke takes longer to dissipate.

9. Ventilate periodically

Although it’s recommended you keep the spaces closed, when you can, you should also ventilate the house to improve indoor air quality.

10. Plants are good allies

There are several benefits of having plants at home. They can even help clean the air, as well as being decorative.

11. Protection when going outside

It isn’t good to go outside when the air is very polluted. But if this is unavoidable, protect yourself by wearing a mask, including eyeglasses, to prevent irritation of the eye mucosa.

12. Streets with traffic

Whether you’re on foot or in a vehicle, avoid the most congested streets. Side streets and streets with less traffic can reduce exposure to vehicle emissions.

13. Avoid urban canyons

Urban canyons are relatively narrow roadways with very tall buildings on either side. These spaces have been studied in various research studies because they trap pollution due to reduced air circulation.

14. Peak hours

Try to adjust your departure times as much as possible. You should avoid being on the street during rush hour, when there are more vehicles on the road and exhaust emissions are higher.

15. Breathe through your nose

Breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth, because the cilia or hairs that line the inside of your nostrils retain some of the dust particles.

16. Drink water

Not only does this prevent dehydration, but it helps you breathe better by keeping moisture in your mucous membranes. Also, smoke and dust cause dryness in the throat, which can make you cough.

17. Stay healthy

Staying in good shape and being able to breathe well go hand in hand. And this is achieved with good nutrition and physical activity.

18. Exercise indoors

Although it isn’t always recommended, when the air outside is polluted, it’s preferable to exercise indoors. At least until air quality improves. Remember that when you exercise you inhale more.

19. Emergency medication

In case you need it, always have emergency medication or devices on hand, whether they’re inhalers or anti-allergic. This is especially important for patients who have already been diagnosed and have received a prescription from a specialist.

How can you protect yourself from air pollution beforehand?

In addition to protecting yourself from the effects of air pollution when it already exists, we can also do our part to prevent further increases in particulate matter and toxic gas emissions into the environment. In this regard, we suggest you consider the following recommendations:

  • Avoid burning wood or charcoal, either for heating or for barbecues.
  • Don’t use leaf blowers for lawns, as they raise dust and particles.
  • Minimize motor vehicle use. Instead, use public transportation, go by bike, or walk.
  • Consider switching to an electric, hybrid, or energy-efficient car.
  • Don’t smoke or allow smoking inside your office.
  • Recycling also helps reduce industrial processes that generate toxic gases.
  • Plant trees.

If, despite protecting yourself with all these measures, symptoms persist, due to the effects of air pollution, you should consult your doctor. The inside of the home shouldn’t be overlooked either. Indoor pollution can be just as harmful as pollution from the outside.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.