Everyone can be affected by air pollution especially when exposed over prolonged periods of time. However, some groups of people may be more susceptible than others in regards to exposure to air pollution. Different pollutants may affect these groups differently. For example, several of the pollutants may trigger symptoms in people with asthma, whereas people with heart disease are most likely to be affected by particle pollution.

The following people are more likely to be affected:

  • People with asthma: exposure to air pollution might worsen your symptoms or trigger asthma attacks. Use your reliever medicine and check you have an up to date asthma action plan.
  • People with lung disease, such as chronic bronchitis (also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD): exposure to air pollution might worsen your symptoms. Use your reliever medicine and see your doctor if symptoms don’t resolve.
  • People with cardiovascular (heart) disease: exposure to air pollution might induce symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain or shortness of breath. If your symptoms persist or are severe, you should seek urgent medical advice from your doctor or nearest Emergency Department.

People can be more susceptible to some type of air pollution in certain life stages:

  • Unborn babies (pregnant women): exposure to high levels of air pollution over longer time periods (ie weeks to months) may be linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as reduced birth weight or preterm birth.
  • Children are likely to be more vulnerable to exposure to air pollution compared to adults for the following reasons:
    • Their lungs are still growing and developing
    • Their immune and metabolic systems are still developing
    • They suffer from frequent respiratory infections
    • They are more active outdoors than adults and therefore breathe in higher doses of outdoor pollutant
  • However, most evidence suggests that this is more likely in situations when concentrations are elevated over long periods of time and not just over a few days. There is so far no evidence that short-term increases in air pollution have permanent effects on the developing lung.

    Some children are especially vulnerable. This includes children with underlying chronic lung conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.
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  • Older adults: Older people are more likely to be affected by air pollution, perhaps due to generally weaker immune systems, or undiagnosed respiratory or cardiovascular health conditions. As people age, their bodies are less able to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards. Air pollution can aggravate heart disease and stroke, lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis (also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD) and asthma.
Page Updated: Tuesday 30 April 2013