Breathe... But flee from the polluted air!

The air we breathe is sometimes not clean. It contains invisible and visible particles, chemicals and bacteria, among others.

What happens when we breathe contaminated air?

In its passage from the nose to the lungs, some of this polluted air will be trapped in different obstacles, such as the nose hairs or the bifurcation of the bronchi, but the rest will reach the lung cells. There, irritation will occur, since they are foreign bodies to our body, and our immune system will fight them by generating a lung inflammation that can be harmful.

Today, we know that some of these particles of polluted air pass through the tiny orifices of the barrier that are our lungs, navigating through the bloodstream to other organs. These particles of polluted air can also reach the placenta and the fetus (in pregnancy), and even our brain.

The problem is that it seems that these particles cannot be eliminated, so our body will accumulate these "foreign bodies", creating a chronic, continuous and low level of inflammation that is not good for our health.

People with respiratory diseases are especially affected, since bronchitis, asthma, chronic respiratory diseases and all allergic diseases (such as rhinitis) are more likely to get worse when pollution increases. It also favors lung infections, such as pneumonia.

Another vital organ affected is the heart. On contaminated days, the release of stress-related hormones and local inflammation make us more susceptible to sudden death, arrhythmias, heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, the chronic level of inflammation makes our arteries more rigid, making it easier for cholesterol to stick to the artery walls. Thus, air pollution is also associated with chronic cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, angina pectoris or heart failure.

People who live in more polluted areas -from students to the elderly- are also at greater risk for accelerated loss of cognitive agility, and pollution is linked to inattention, poor school performance, and dementia. Finally, pollution also affects cells that constantly replicate, and is associated with hair loss, eye irritation, poor sperm quality and low fertility rates.

Alejandro Peña

Journalist, broadcaster and creative editor+ info

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