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Why are the health effects of pollution worse for women?

Why are the health effects of pollution worse for women?

You probably know that air pollution can have a harmful effect on your health, but you might not know that pollution can affect women and men differently.

It’s true. Research has shown that the effects of air pollution are more dangerous in women than in their male counterpoints.

What steps can you take to protect yourself? Read on for details.

What is air pollution?

You’ve probably seen it—and smelled it. Air pollution is a mix of substances that can harm all living things that breathe them in. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there are a number of air pollution sources, including:

  • Ground-level ozone, also called smog
  • Noxious gasses, which include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides
  • Particulate matter (PM), which is made up of chemicals like sulfates, nitrates, carbon and mineral dusts
  • Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and particulate matter
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC), which vaporize at or near room temperature from products like paints, cleaning supplies, gasoline and even glue

What causes these types of air pollution? TRAP is created by motor vehicles, which contribute to the emission of smog, noxious gasses and PM. Smoking releases air pollution in the form of particulate matter. While PM is tiny—30 times thinner than a human hair—it can burrow deep into lung tissue, causing serious health problems. PM is responsible for most of the health impacts of air pollution.

The facts about air pollution and women

Long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can have a dangerous effect on human health. Exposure to air pollution is tied to respiratory infections, respiratory diseases such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even premature death.

Air pollution can have a particularly dangerous effect on older adults and young children—and, as it turns out, on women.

Because certain chronic health conditions, including COPD and asthma, are more common in women than in men, the impact of air pollution can be magnified. Exposure to environmental and manmade pollutants may increase the risk of developing those conditions or worsen the symptoms of preexisting conditions.

When exposed to high levels of air pollution common in other parts of the world, women also experience higher rates of reproductive issues, including miscarriages, stillbirths and pregnancy complications.

A 2022 study found that diesel exhaust caused changes in the makeup of blood components tied with inflammation, heart disease and infection. This happened in both men and women, but the effect was much more pronounced among women.

What can you do to lower your risk as a woman? While you can’t entirely avoid exposure to air pollution, you can take steps to limit your exposure. For one, keep an eye on the air quality index (AQI) each day and avoid outdoor activity on days when the AQI is highest. You can often find the AQI paired with the daily weather forecast.

When working with chemicals of any type, carefully read the product labels and follow instructions. Don’t use outdoor products indoors and be sure to properly ventilate rooms and use a fan to move the air when using chemicals of any type inside.

Looking for a way to keep an eye on your health? Regular checkups with your LCMC Health primary care provider are the ticket! Schedule an appointment today.