Air Pollutants and Health Effects

Who’s at Risk

Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can cause more serious problems.

People Most at Risk


Pound for pound, children breathe more than adults and are more sensitive to pollution. Their air passages are narrower, so it takes less inflammation or irritation to obstruct their airways. Children typically spend more time outdoors and are more active than adults. They also are more likely to have asthma or other respiratory illnesses, which are aggravated by air pollution.


Older adults may have heart or lung disease or diabetes that puts them at greater risk. People with diabetes are at increased risk in part because they also have a higher risk of underlying cardiovascular disease.

Active Adults

Healthy adults of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are susceptible to air pollution because they have a higher level of exposure. Exercise causes people to breathe faster and more deeply, drawing more air into the lungs. In the case of ozone, the risk of serious effects is heightened in the afternoon hours. It’s better to exercise in the morning or evening when ozone concentrations are expected to be less elevated.