It is well known that air pollution can be harmful to our health. The air we breathe can contain a variety of pollutants emitted into the atmosphere outdoors (also called ambient air) as well as into the air indoors. Air pollution can contain a mixture of solid particles, liquid droplets and gases from a variety of sources such as industry, motor vehicles, heating appliances, and tobacco smoke.

Air pollution can also be generated by natural events such as bush fires and can contain windblown dust, pollen and mould spores. The composition of air pollution can vary greatly, depending on the season, the weather and the types and numbers of sources.

At the levels measured in Australia, the effect of air pollution on any individual’s health is generally very small. However, because everyone is exposed to air pollution the total effect across the whole population can be substantial. In Australia, it is estimated that about 1% of the total burden of disease is due to air pollution.

How does air pollution affect your health?

Exposure to air pollution may cause a wide range of health effects. These vary from mild symptoms such as irritation of your eyes, nose and throat, to more serious conditions such as lung (respiratory) and heart (cardiovascular) diseases.

Depending on the particular pollutant, short-term exposure has different health effects to long-term exposure. Short-term exposure exacerbates, or makes worse, pre-existing illnesses such as asthma, chronic bronchitis (also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD) or heart disease. Longer-term exposure can actually cause the development of respiratory and heart conditions and shorten someone’s life.

Read more about specific adverse health effects in Common air pollutants and their health effects, Who is affected by air pollution and Simple steps to protect your health.​

Page Updated: Monday 29 April 2013
Contact page owner: Environmental Health