The Effect of Outdoor Air Pollutants on Our Lungs

The Effect of Outdoor Air Pollutants on Our Lungs

Asia Muhammad, ND Asia Muhammad, ND
4 minute read

Our lungs constantly filter the air we breathe, both indoor and outdoor. Pollutants are very tiny chemical compounds in the air that are mostly naked to the human eye. These invisible compounds can wreak havoc on our respiratory system and the body as a whole. Studies reveal that outdoor air pollutants can affect almost every organ system in the body. The entire respiratory tree is particularly susceptible to damage from inhaled pollutants. Before we delve into the effects of pollutants on the lungs, let’s first breakdown what they are and where they come from:

Types of Pollutants

There are many different types of air pollutants. The CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classify 6 air pollutants that have demonstrable effects on human health. They include:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead

  • Nitrogen Oxides

  • Ground-level ozone

  • Particulate Matter

  • Sulfur Oxides

Particulate Matter (PM)

This category refers to particles that can be solid, gas, or a mixture of both, which are suspended in the air. Some particulate matter can be visualized while other types are invisible. Globally, it is estimated that PM contributes to over one-quarter of outdoor air pollution. Types of particulate matter include:

  • Industrial activity

  • Domestic fuel burning

  • Traffic

  • Road dust

  • Other human activities

Ozone gas

This gas is formed through the combination of other organ compounds already present in our environment. Ozone is actually naturally present in our stratosphere and plays an important role in absorbing UV-B rays that can be detrimental to life on Earth. Excessive ozone gas on the ground level in our atmosphere is dangerous. Numerous studies reveal the consequence of ozone gas on lung and heart health. Ozone occurs in ambient air through the following processes:

  • Product of chemical reactions between chemical compounds and the sun

  • Chemical plants, refineries, traffic, and power plants release specific precursor molecules into the air that can lead to the creation of ozone gas

Traffic-related air pollution

This pollution comes directly from motor vehicles, including diesel and gasoline fuel. This is differentiated from the particulate matter because people living near highways and busy roadways demonstrate health effects specific to the concentration of pollution in these areas.

  • Diesel motor vehicles

  • Gasoline motor vehicles

Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Oxides

Both gases are released into the air largely through the burning of fuels by power plants, cars, and other industrial facilities. They irritate our lungs and have been associated with worsening respiratory disease.

  • Primarily the burning of fuels

Air Pollutants and Our Lungs

As you can see, our ambient air is filled with many pollutants as an effect of our modern industrial world. Literature reveals that our upper lungs filter larger air particles; however, very small particles can penetrate deeper into the lungs. Exposure to air pollution is demonstrated in cell, animal, and human models to create inflammatory changes within the lungs. In children, chronic exposure to air pollution impairs lung growth; however, it was found that lung function improves when moved to an environment of low pollutant exposure.

Chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma are also associated with environmental air pollutants. Chemicals in the air can worsen respiratory disease symptoms and drive the progression of lung diseases. Beyond these common lung diseases, air pollution is also associated with acute lung infections, lung cancer, interstitial lung disease, and acute respiratory distress syndrome. In general, chronic exposure to air pollution is associated with reduced lung function. To note, the severity of lung damage depends not only on the type of pollutant but also the amount of pollutant inhaled over time.


There are many things beyond our control in our environment, like outdoor air quality. Here are some simple things you can do to reduce exposure to these pollutants indoors:

  • Use an indoor air filtration device, especially if living in areas near factories, power plants, or during high-traffic times if living near roadways.

  • Change indoor air filters out regularly.

  • Use quality indoor air filters with high filtration ratings.

  • Reduce the use of chemicals indoors, such as fragrant sprays and perfumes.

You can also support your lungs from within with dietary changes. A target probiotic supplement like resB Lung Support is a great holistic tool. You can learn more at

About the Author

Asia Muhammad, ND, is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and an expert in functional medicine and personalized health. She specializes in gastroenterology, mind-body medicine, and stress management and has received additional training in mind-body therapies. Learn more at or follow Dr. Asia on Instagram.

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