What is air pollution?
Air pollution refers to the high-levels of harmful substances emitted into the environment, affecting the quality of air. Approximately 92% of the world’s population is affected by dangerous levels of air pollution, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular damage, respiratory problems, nervous system diseases, skin irritation, and other harmful conditions.
Immediate and common symptoms of air pollution are:
- Watery eyes
- Breathing difficulties
- Sinus irritation
People with existing conditions such as asthma or heart problems should take precautionary care and limit exposure to high levels of air pollution.
Both physical and psychological health can be affected by the quality of the air we breathe. The leading causes of air pollution come from harmful gases and particles released by vehicles, factories, smoke, forest fires, and radiation.
How does air pollution affect pregnancy?
There is a lot of research on the consequences of air pollution during pregnancy and the potential harm it can cause both pregnant women and their babies.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Low Birth Weight: The ideal weight for a newborn is 2.5–4.5 kgs, delivered at 38–40 weeks. Birth weight of under 6 pounds is considered low and can affect 1 in 12 babies. There can be several causes, but air pollution is thought to be one of the reasons behind this complication.
- Premature Labor: A study by The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, found approximately 3 million babies are born prematurely every year because of air pollution. Babies born early are at higher risk of developmental problems such as neurological disorders and permanent physical disabilities.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): According to a Harvard study, pregnant women exposed to hazardous pollutants during their third trimester are twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism. Autism refers to conditions that can challenge social skills, speech and non-verbal communication abilities, and repetitive behaviors.
- Asthma: Asthma can cause preeclampsia, which elevates blood pressure and can be life-threatening. Managing asthma is vital to ensuring you and your baby are receiving enough oxygen. Air pollution can also increase the chances of your baby developing asthma later on.
- Fertility Problems: Some studies have found that air pollution can contribute to infertility problems in both men and women. Air pollution has been linked to miscarriages in multiple studies.
How to protect yourself from air pollution:
Although it is impossible to avoid air pollution altogether, there are a few precautions you can take to limit exposure.
- Check your locations Air Quality Index (AQI) frequently: Even if it may look clear outside, that doesn’t necessarily mean the air is safe. The AQI report will give you enough information to understand the pollution levels in your area.
- Invest in an air purifier: Harmful pollutants can be found inside your home as well. Find an air purifier to suit your needs and to help eliminate smoke, germs, mold, and allergens from the air indoors.
- Create a healthy environment: The environment around us is changing (not for good), and there are measures we can take to help. Our daily activities, like cooking, or certain products we use, like hairsprays, can contaminate the air. Start using natural products and ensuring your house is free of mold, dust, and other harmful bacterias and using your exhaust while cooking. The exhaust will remove airborne smoke, fumes, and grease by filtering and releasing the air.
- Spend more time indoors: Did you know your skin is your largest organ? It absorbs 60–100% of whatever it touches. Pregnant women transfer everything to their babies, be it food, water, or air. If there are high levels of air pollution outdoors, stay inside with your air purifier.
- Air-purifying plants are a thing: Plants are a natural filter component that can help clean the air you breathe. Specific species can remove harmful substances and convert carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen. Buy some plants to keep around the house to improve your Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
Air pollution can increase the risk of miscarriages
Air pollution is a growing concern and is considered just as bad as smoking, for increasing the risk of miscarriages in pregnant women. Therefore, making it crucial to reduce the harmful impact that air pollution can have on the health of future generations.
Multiple studies have found a link between air pollution and miscarriages. The increased levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air increased the risk of pregnancy loss by 16%. Nitrogen oxide combines with other chemicals in the air to form nitrogen dioxide. These chemicals are commonly released from the fuel used in vehicles.
Not all women experience symptoms of miscarriages. These symptoms include mild to severe cramps, back pain, and bleeding.
There are several types of miscarriages. One being “silent” miscarriages mean that the fetus has not developed but remains in the uterus and has not physically miscarried. Studies suggest air pollution has increased the probability of women experiencing this type of miscarriages by 6.8%.
More research is needed to be carried out to find out exactly how air pollution can affect fetuses. But it is believed, long-term exposure can weaken the maternal-fetal blood barrier, leading to an increased chance of the fetus developing cardiovascular problems, respiratory diseases, developmental limitations, and many other conditions.
Pregnancy comes with its own set of challenges. It is essential to be aware and ensure the environment around you is safe you both you and your baby. Air pollution affects millions of people around the world, but with a generous amount of information available, you can learn and practice how to avoid its negative impact.