Common Diseases Caused by Air Pollution in Seniors

Air pollution is one of the deadliest pollutions that claims thousands of lives every year. While no one is spared from its ill effects, seniors are the ones who are highly susceptible to the diseases caused by air pollution.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape the consequences of it completely. However, what we can certainly do is take some protective measures to minimise the risk of diseases caused by pollution. We shall discuss that in the last section.
Speaking of the list of diseases caused by air pollution, it includes:


One of the common diseases caused by air pollution is asthma. It is a condition in which individuals find it difficult to breathe due to extra mucus produced by inflamed, narrowed, and swelled airways. Other than difficulty breathing, some of the prominent symptoms of asthma include cough, wheezing, chest pain, fast heart rate, throat irritation, shortness of breath at night.

Particulate matter, ground-level ozone, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur cause asthma. Besides, tobacco smoke can be extremely detrimental to the health of the asthmatic person and can flare up the symptoms. Therefore, it is crucial to refrain from smoking in the presence of a person with asthma.

Seniors with asthma struggle a lot with their routine activities. To manage the condition well, doctors prescribe medications, self-care, and supportive care in severe cases that include oxygen therapy.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Of several diseases caused by pollution, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), with over 10 million cases every year, is a quite common and prominent disease in India. COPD is characterised by inflammatory lungs that obstruct the airflow and make it extremely difficult for the person to breathe.

Although it is one of the many diseases caused due to air pollution, the other main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. Other than difficulty breathing, wheezing, chronic cough, chest tightness, lack of energy, weight loss, and frequent respiratory infections are some of the symptoms of COPD.

What makes COPD even worse is the fact that the damage caused to the lungs is irreversible. Two conditions that further aggravate COPD are Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. Both these conditions usually occur together and may vary in terms of severity from person to person. Depending on the condition, the doctor may prescribe treatment in the form of medications, self-care, therapies, and supportive care.

Weakening of Lung Function

This is certainly not one of the many diseases caused by air pollution, but definitely a prominent sign that may invite several potential diseases like pneumonia and lung cancer. It is a known fact that ageing affects the functioning of all body systems that include cells, tissues, and most importantly the organs. As compared to young and middle-aged adults, the lung capacity of seniors is found on the lower side and air pollution further makes the condition more vulnerable.

The status of air pollution in India has become so bad that even on normal days, the air quality index in cities at any point of time is above the safe limits defined by WHO. So, the constant breathing in of the polluted air results in the gradual weakening of lung function. This can be identified in the forms of easy exposure to allergies, panting while engaged in routine activities and compromised immunity to common infections like cold, cough, and flu.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is one of the serious diseases caused due to pollution. Other than particulate matter, there are numerous carcinogens present in the air which adversely affect the lungs on inhalation and eventually lead to pulmonary or lung cancer. In general, the primary cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking which means seniors with smoking habit are more vulnerable to this disease.

The disease is characterised by abnormal growth of cells in one or both lungs, causing a tremendous drop in the lungs capacity of carrying oxygen and ultimately resulting in a complete malfunctioning of the respiratory system. Some of the common symptoms of lung cancer include a change in voice (hoarseness), frequent infections in the chest, chest pain, shortness of breath and wheezing, and swelling in the lymph nodes among others.

Broadly, lung cancer can be categorised as small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Speaking of the severity of this disease, it is determined in terms of stages. The more advanced the stage, the more difficult it gets to manage. The treatment for lung cancer includes self-care, medications, surgery, medical procedure, and supportive care. To ensure elderly get proper care at home, one can even opt for in-home care services for seniors.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Particulate matter comprises several solid and liquid particles and other poisonous substances that are suspended in the air. These are extremely hazardous for those who inhale them. Seniors exposed to a polluted environment are at a higher risk of developing various cardiovascular diseases.

Talking about the risk of contracting infection and diseases, it depends on the exposure to the pollutants and of course the very intensity of it. Some of the common cardiovascular complications and diseases due to pollution include the risk of heart attack due to artery blockages, stroke, arrhythmias, and withering of heart tissue due to oxygen deprivation among others. Although these are short-term consequences of exposure to air pollutants, the risk magnifies manifold in case of long-term exposure which may even cause heart failure.


Air pollution causes several diseases, of which leukaemia is extremely fatal. A type of blood cancer, leukaemia is caused due to heavy exposure to the benzene vapours present in the polluted air. In this disease, the white blood cells (WBCs) start increasing uncontrollably and crowd out the red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets that are crucial for the body to stay healthy.

Leukaemia is of many types such as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and acute myeloid leukaemia. What is worst about this disease is that some patients who gradually develop it do not show any symptoms, which makes it difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Some of the common symptoms of leukaemia include fatigue, headaches, vomiting, weight loss, night sweats, seizures, shortness of breath, bruising or bleeding easily, pain in bones and joints, fever or chills, swollen lymph nodes, and so on.


Pneumonia is one of the many diseases caused due to air pollution. In this condition, the air sacs in one or both lungs get inflamed and may fill with fluid or pus. Despite being a common disease of the respiratory tract, it can turn out to be dangerous for the person, if left untreated.

People over 65 are highly susceptible to catching pneumonia as they tend to have a compromised immune system and this disease is mainly caused due to bacteria and viruses that are present in great amounts in polluted air.

Some of the common symptoms of pneumonia include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, cough that produces phlegm or mucus, fever, loss of appetite, and so on. The treatment of this disease includes medications like antibiotics and penicillin and supportive care.

Strategies to Minimise the Effects of Air Pollution

The consequences of air pollution are inevitable. However, what we can do to minimise its effects is to adopt preventive measures that include:

•    Installing air purifiers at home and in cars
•    Using face masks when outside
•    Planting more trees in surroundings and keeping air-purifying plants at home
•    Encouraging people to not burst crackers
•    Using more public transports (young population)
•    Avoiding the use of products (paints) that release toxic fumes and are not environment – friendly

These things might seem trivial, but they can have a major impact if implemented on a societal level. These are a few things that we can do to ensure our seniors are least affected by the perils of air pollution. Besides these, eating healthy, exercising daily, building an immune system, not skipping medications, and following a healthy routine can help seniors reduce the impact of air pollution. At Emoha, we keep #EldersFirst in everything we do to make them feel more inclusive and engaged and lead a better quality of life. Browse our website to know more about what we do.