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Human Respiratory System

Air pollution has been one of the key health concerns. Various human activities cause the production of poisonous gasses and dust that pollute air and lower its quality. The air pollution by unhealthy gasses and particulate matter or dust can affect human health adversely. The key notable area of health effects associated with the air pollution is its negative impact on the respiratory system of a person.

The respiratory system provides a platform, through which gaseous exchange takes place. It consists of the nostrils, trachea, bronchi, Bronchioles, and the alveoli. The air from the environment enters the body through the nostrils; this air undergoes appropriate conditioning on its way to the lung parenchyma, where gas diffusion occurs. The oxygen in the inhaled air passes through the pneumocyte cells and beomes attached to the erythrocyte hemoglobin for transfer to body parts, where it is utilized for physiological purposes. The carbon (IV) oxide is released from the lungs, and then, it is exhaled.

There are special respiratory system features that make it possible for the gaseous exchange to occur efficiently. The bronchi have mucous and serous glands that produce secretions (Ionescu, 2013). The goblet cells of the respiratory epithelium also generate mucus with determined viscosity, charge, PH, and stain affinity (Ionescu, 2013. These features of the respiratory system allow the gas from the external environment to be filtered, warmed, and moistened before reaching the lung alveoli for gaseous exchange. The changes in structural features of respiratory epithelium, or the nature of mucus produced is likely to impair with the respiration; air pollution has been classified as one of the significant contributors to the respiratory system changes that result in respiratory diseases.


Air Pollutants

Air pollutants are constituent compounds of the air in the atmosphere. Animals release carbon dioxide, and volcanic eruptions generate sulfur oxides. These are naturally occurring events. However, human activities have resulted in the production of the larger amount of atmospheric pollutants, which has caused significant imbalances. The lack of balance has led to the adverse effects on human health and life.

There are primary and secondary causes of air pollution. The primary sources tend to release harmful products to the atmosphere, while the secondary ones involve the reactions of atmospheric compounds to generate toxic substances. Furthermore, indoor sources of air pollution include cooking, combustion, heating, building materials, and consumer goods (Shrestha & Shrestha, 2013). Outdoor sources of air pollution include the industrial and commercial activities and agricultural operations.

It is important to note that particles contribute significantly to air pollution. Various sources of particles include organic matter being flown by the wind, biogenic emissions, wildfires, volcano events, industrial and commercial waste, combustion of household goods, and nuclear waste. The atmospheric air in urban and industrial areas has a larger concentration of particulate matter. Such an environment with more particles predisposes people to greater risks of harmful air pollution effects. Sometimes, the sky can look clear, but it still has invisible particles that can be either liquid or solid.

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Diseases and Respiratory Disorders Associated with Air Pollution

Air pollutants have been known to play a role in the emergence of congestive obstructive disease, inflammation and immunological disorders, fibrosis, respiratory cancers, and asthmatic disorders. Air pollutants, including irritants like nitric oxide, Ozone, and particulate matter, have been seen to induce respiratory inflammation diseases. The highly populated areas, including cities, have been observed that they experience higher incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases such as asthma. Asthma is an immunologic disorder associated with an increase in the release of immunological mediators and chemokines that can induce excessive mucus production and induce the proliferation of fibroblasts. Furthermore, some volatile metals organic compounds can be carcinogenic when inhaled.

In the 20th century, the problems of air pollution were linked to high levels of sulfur dioxide. In one of the controlled exposures, rapid bronchoconstriction was observed when sulfur dioxides were exposed to both healthy and asthmatic subjects (Valavanidis et al., 2013). Sulfur dioxide was confirmed to have a relationship with the TNF-? - an immune mediator associated with asthma. The immune mediators tend to elicit an immunological response, and this can be explained in the case of asthma. The relationship between the sulfur dioxide and bronchoconstriction affirms that air pollutants have adverse effects on the respiratory process.

Ozone gases have been pinpointed as one of the key atmospheric pollutants. The series of reactions that entail sunlight, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbons contribute to the formation of ozone gas (Hoek et al., 2013). The increased utilization of the fossil fuels is associated with the consequential increase in nitric dioxide, which results in a continuous rise in the formation of the ozone gasses (Rutter et al., 2015). Ozone has been shown to lower the forced vital capacity and induce respiratory hyper-responsiveness when one is exposed to it (Rutter et al., 2015).

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Nitric (IV) Oxide can be released directly to the environment through combustion reactions, but the huge source is through oxidation of nitric (II) oxide. Nitric (IV) oxide tends to induce an inflammatory response in the respiratory airway, and it is characterized by the increased neutrophils and lowered lymphocytes numbers. Nitric (IV) oxide reduces lung function. Nitric (IV) oxide has been associated with phlegm and acute bronchitis (Smith, 2013).

Partial combustion of carbon produces carbon (II) oxide. This gas is poisonous and it can form a complex with the hemoglobin. This complex is called carboxyhemoglobin, and it is very difficult for the separation of hemoglobin and carbon (II) oxide to occur. This feature will reduce the functional capacity bestowed upon the hemoglobin molecules; hence, it results in the failure of transfer of the oxygen gas to tissue when such a gas is inhaled in a substantial amount. Moreover, it can cause death.

Small particles suspended in the air contribute to the impairment of respiratory functioning. The particles, which have diameters of less than 10 ?m, can enter lower respiratory tract, while those having diameters less than 2.5 ?m can go as far as alveoli (Stern, 2014). Not only do small particles affect the respiration but also the polluted atmospheric air may contain a particulate matter that has endotoxins; an example is the heat shock protein HSP60 from a particular bacterium (Smith, 2013). When the air polluted with particulate matter containing HSP60 is inhaled, it results in lung inflammation.

Lung cancer has been pinpointed as one of human cancers that contribute to morbidity and mortality in the world. Smoking has been cited as a risk factor that can cause lung cancer. Smoking is one of the human behaviors that contribute to air pollution, and both the smoker and the non-smoker who stays in an environment where smoking occurs are likely to experience the adverse respiratory effects associated with the inhalation of cigarette particles (Raaschou-Nielsen et al., 2013). Smoking induces a genetic mutation that can affect gene transcription. Research findings indicate that the lung cancers caused by air pollution account for 10% of all lung cancers (Siegel, Naishadham, & Jemal, 2013). Furthermore, it had been observed that the persons who lived near industrial areas were more predisposed to lung cancers (Siegel, Naishadham, & Jemal, 2013). Complex compounds of nitrogen oxides, ozone gas, and sulfur oxides are thought to be carcinogenic when they are inhaled, and this can explain the rising incidences of cancers.

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The polluted air may contain particles that have heavy metals, including cobalt, chromium, nickel, and cadmium. Some of these heavy metals have been proven to induce lung cancers (Salnikow & Zhitkovich, 2007). The carcinogenic metals influence cell proliferation and development. The interference with cellular activities results in abnormal cell proliferation and development. Such an influence can explain the rising cases of cancers.

A radioactive gas, such as radon, that has a natural origin has been found to contribute immensely to lung tumors. It is the second causative factor just after smoking (Stern, 2014). Radon tends to damage the functionality of tumor suppressor genes. Radon emanates from the rocks underground and moves to the atmosphere where it becomes a constituent of atmospheric air. It can be difficult to control this gas since because of its natural occurrence.

Pulmonary fibrosis develops due to the interaction of multiple lungs disorders. It is hard to identify the actual cause of pulmonary fibrosis (Mehta, Shin, Burnett, North, & Cohen, 2013). Several air pollutants, when inhaled, can induce respiratory inflammations, and these immune reactions will likely cause lung fibrosis after interacting in a complex manner with other lung diseases. Lung fibrosis is the result of respiratory disease odified by air pollution.

Air pollution and smoking have been blamed for the rising cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a gradual respiratory disorder characterized by impaired airflow in the respiratory system. When the air inhaled contains toxic and poisonous compounds, it tends to induce an increase in the number of goblet cells and elicit the production of excessive mucus; this will result in airway blockage (Hystad, Demers, Johnson, Carpiano, & Brauer, 2013).

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Finally, air pollution has been associated with respiratory infection, especially pneumonia. Postnatal infections in both neonates and infants have been correlated with the air pollution (Mehta et al., 2013). Mehta et al. (2013) have observed that young children are more predispose to air pollution and respiratory pathogens. Furthermore, it has been registered that air pollutants modify respiratory infections in adults.


There is a glaring association between respiratory disorders and air pollution. Human activities and naturally occurring events and phenomena have combined forces in the release of toxic and poisonous compounds into the atmosphere. Humans inhale air to meet the body physiological needs, but the inhaled air that has toxic compounds, carcinogenic metals, dust, gasses and other contents will cause adverse impairments in the respiratory system. Some air pollutants can cause immunological reactions, which can lead to diseases like asthma. Air pollutants tend to exacerbate chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Smoking contributes to a significant percentage in the causation of lung cancer. Some of the inhaled elements have also been found to be carcinogenic. It is also important to note that the cases of respiratory neonatal infections, infant infections, and respiration infections in adults have been associated with air pollutants.

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