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Home > The ABC of air > Health effects
Health effects

Sensitive persons

Among the population, categories of persons referred to as “sensitive”– more vulnerable than others – to the quality of the air have been determined.

The individuals who are most vulnerable to air pollution are:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Asthmatics
  • Persons who suffer from respiratory insufficiency
  • Persons who suffer from cardiovascular problems

During a pollution episode, various symptoms can appear, in an immediate or deferred fashion.

Among the symptoms that may be experienced:

  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Irritation of the eyes

Effects of long-term pollution

The effects of long-term pollution are less well known.

They can include:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Mutagenic effects
  • Carcinogens

Cause-and-effect relationships are complex to establish and require taking multiple parameters into consideration in large-scale epidemiological studies. Keeping this in mind, the health impact of atmospheric pollution in Europe is estimated at more than 375,000 premature deaths (Clean Air For Europe program).

Measuring pollution at fixed stations provides an estimation of the concentrations to which inhabitants of a conurbation are subjected in various public and private spaces. But an individual’s actual exposure depends on a multitude of factors: habitat, lifestyle, modes of travel, etc.

One component of individual exposure that should not be neglected is the quality of the air inside means of conveyance and in living and working spaces.

To find out more

  • Am I an individual who is sensitive to atmospheric pollution?
    Yes, if I am a child. Until age 8, my respiratory system is undergoing rapid growth. Yes, if I have a disease of the respiratory tract or heart problems, and especially if I am an older person.
 
  • What symptoms are experienced due to atmospheric pollution?
    Most often, the majority of people don’t feel anything. For sensitive persons, the symptoms are varied. In general, they are the following: respiratory irritation and discomfort in the lower (bronchi) or upper (nose and throat) respiratory tract or eye irritation.
 
  • Are the effects felt immediately?
    As with any inflammation, the effects may be felt immediately or later, the following day or two days after.
 
  • Is it better to stay at home to avoid atmospheric pollution?
    I maintain my usual lifestyle while avoiding unnecessary exposure, additional irritants (tobacco, DIY and maintenance products, heavily trafficked roads, etc.), especially if I am sensitive. I also need to avoid physical efforts that are too violent.
 
  • If I live in the country, am I protected?
    Not totally. It is possible to escape urban pollution (automobiles, industries, etc.), but there are pollutants that can travel over long distances and affect the countryside as well as cities (that is true, for example, of ozone, a summer pollutant). Not to mention pollutants that are more common in the country – such as pesticides.
 
  • Should outdoor activities be forbidden for children?
    There is no reason to eliminate planned outings. Simply avoid efforts that are too violent. For sports, another approach is recommended, emphasising technical moves rather than endurance or performance.
 
  • How can I tell when I’m making an intense physical effort?
    As soon as my physical activity requires me to breathe through my mouth; I’m inhaling a large volume of air.
 
  • Should I keep my windows closed during a pollution peak?
    I air my house as I normally do.
 
  • Does a pollution peak have an odour?
    An odour is not necessarily associated with toxicity. A pollution peak and an odour don’t always coincide.
 
  • To what do the pollution thresholds correspond?
    Despite the great variability of individuals in terms of atmospheric pollutants, the thresholds are established based on the most sensitive populations. Individuals who feel any effects below these thresholds are rare. Each person must learn to know their own sensitivity in order to better control their environment and protect themselves when necessary.
 
  • What must I do to protect myself from a pollution peak if I am sensitive?
    Above all, I scrupulously follow my respiratory or cardiac medical treatment. I don’t hesitate to ask for my doctor’s advice. I postpone activities that require a heavy physical effort. I avoid needlessly exposing myself to other irritant factors such as tobacco smoke, solvents given off by DIY or maintenance products, and streets and roads where traffic is heavy.