A major public health risk is caused by suspended particulates in the air or airborne particulate matter (PM) with a diameter of fewer than 10 microns. When people inhale these tiny particles, it deposits in the lungs and causes various health issues. A one-time exposure can be harmful, while prolonged exposure can cause chronic problems and increase the mortality rate of any chronic respiratory issues.
Since we spend 90% of our day indoors, it's crucial to care about our indoor air quality. There are many causes of poor indoor air quality, many of which produce harmful PM. We’ll cover the negative environmental and health impacts of PM.
What Are The Health Effects of Particulate Matter?
When PM like smoke and dust enter your body, the fine and coarse particles can interfere with many heart and lung functions, causing adverse health effects ranging from mild to severe.
Human Health Risk of Short-term Particulate Matter Exposure
Exposure to PM can cause some short-term effects on your body. The most likely symptoms you will notice are related to your respiratory system and blood pressure.
Inhaling PM can cause quite a few short-term respiratory complications as pollutants collect in your lungs and throat. For example, you may start coughing or wheezing as your body attempts to expel these pollutants.
Other short-term respiratory symptoms you may experience include:
- An acute and reversible decrease in lung function from oxidative stress as PM plugs the alveoli that fill the blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide
- Acute inflammation of the airways and lungs because of pollutants wearing down the mucous membrane that protects these parts and irritating them with direct contact
- Bronchial hyperreactivity, which is especially common in people with asthma and is when bronchi constrict in reaction to even low PM exposure, tightening the airways
- Aggravated asthma attacks in people who have chronic asthma
Increased Blood Pressure
Fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns can get into the bloodstream through the lungs. These particles collect in blood vessels, making them narrow. This makes it harder for blood to travel around your body, so your heart has to pump harder, increasing blood pressure.
Long-Term Exposure Can Cause Cardiovascular and Respiratory Disease
With long-term, chronic exposure to PM particles, you can develop chronic conditions that raise your risk factor for certain complications for the rest of your life.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term inflammation of the bronchi, which can increase your risk of pulmonary diseases. It also makes you susceptible to episodes of acute bronchitis where bronchi tighten and restrict your airways further.
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis include coughing up mucus, wheezing, and chest discomfort. To classify your symptoms as chronic bronchitis, you must first meet two conditions:
- Cough and mucus on most days for at least three months in a year for two years.
- Other possible causes, like tuberculosis and other lung diseases, must have been ruled out.
This condition is often a result of smoking, but prolonged exposure to ambient air pollution will also cause it. Once you have it, there are treatments to help you live more comfortably, but no cure. This is why it's important to avoid PM particles by avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke and properly ventilating areas where PM may get produced.
Coronary Artery Disease
As mentioned before, small enough particles enter your bloodstream and tighten your blood vessels. Particles, like cholesterol, are deposited on the walls of your arteries, reducing the space that the blood can travel through. When this happens in the coronary arteries, which provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart, it causes coronary artery disease.
If this buildup reduces or stops blood flow to the heart, the heart can't get enough oxygen and nutrients to perform its job correctly. This condition can cause chest pain or discomfort, also called angina. It also raises your risk for a heart attack — most people don't know they have coronary artery disease until then. As the heart muscle weakens, you may experience heart failure.
There is no way to reverse the buildup in your arteries. If you find out you have coronary artery disease, your best treatment options include lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and avoiding PM that may aggravate your condition further.
The blood vessels in the brain are responsible for bringing nutrients and oxygen to the brain to keep it functioning. But that also means any damage or interruption to these blood vessels has dire consequences. When particulate air pollution collects in the blood vessels, it raises the chance of a blood clot. If that clot forms in the brain, it causes a stroke. Within minutes without oxygen, brain cells will start to die.
You can assess if you or someone else is having a stroke with the FAST mnemonic (Face, Arms, Speech, Time):
- Face: One side of the face may droop or feel numb. Ask the person to smile and check if only one side of their face moves.
- Arms: One arm may become weaker or more numb than the other. If the person can't hold both arms straight out in front of them for a count of 10, they may have a stroke.
- Speech: If their speech is slurred, it could suggest a stroke.
- Time: It's time to call 911 if they have any of these symptoms. Remember, the sooner you get them medical attention, the higher their chances of surviving.
Studies have shown that higher exposure to air pollution increases the chance of having cardiac arrhythmias, where the heart beats irregularly. This pattern could be too slow or too fast, and you can identify it by symptoms like:
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- Heart skipping beats
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
PM can thicken the blood vessel walls and make the heart work harder to pump. Certain PM particles, like nicotine, can slow the conduction of electrical impulses in cardiac tissue, putting you at higher risk for atrial fibrillation (an irregular, fast pattern).
Reduce Your Exposure to Air Pollution by Monitoring Air Quality
Since people spend most of their time indoors, it's vital to cut down on air pollution exposure indoors. The best way to do that is to set up an air quality monitor in your buildings that lets you know when there are unsafe pollutants in the air that need to be removed.
Try out Senseware's indoor air quality monitoring technology to get real-time updates on PM particles as small as 0.3 microns. Our tech outpaces the indoor air quality monitoring technology by every objective measure. You can rest assured that we will help you keep your air safe.
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