12 Health Effects of Particulate Matter 2.5

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It is essential to learn about the health effects of particulate matter. Especially since particulate matter pollution contributes to over 4 million deaths each year.

Particulate matter, or PM, is the most significant contributor to air pollution worldwide. It is the mixture of solid and liquid pollutants suspended in the air. PM is either organic or inorganic, and it's produced directly or formed through a reaction between numerous pollutants.

So, when it comes to the impact of particulate matter on human health, we categorize the particulate matter by its size. The finer the particles are, the deeper they can diffuse into human bodies and produce severe effects.

Therefore, PM2.5 is one of the most hazardous pollutants around us and is responsible for a variety of health conditions.

So, what are the effects of pollution on human health, and what role PM2.5 plays in it? Today those are the questions we’ll answer.

What is PM2.5?

One common type of pollutant particles is called PM2.5 because they have a diameter of less than 2.5 µm. PM2.5 forms the majority of the total mass of airborne PM.

Some common examples of PM2.5 include:

  • Particles formed by gas-to-solid condensation
  • Combustion products and byproducts
  • Recondensed metallurgic and organic vapors

How To Measure Particulate Matter2.5?

There are several techniques to measure PM concentration in the air. The most common metrics are particle size, number, and mass distribution.

Here are two methods to measure PM concentration in the air:

  1. Gravimetric method: The air is drawn into a filter where particulate matter collects. The sensor weighs PM’s mass on the filter and compares it to the mass of the air before being pulled.
  2. Optical method: A laser source or diode illuminates the particles in the air, and a photodetector measures the amount of light scattered by them.

Now that we’ve covered a bit about what it is and how it works—here is why PM is so harmful.

12 Health Effects Caused by PM2.5

Since PM2.5 is a fine particle. This means it can enter our airway and pass through the walls of your lungs to enter our bloodstream. Once there, PM2.5 reacts with our body’s normal cells and causes physical harm.

The people who are more at risk of the health effects of particulate matter are:

  • Infants, juveniles, & teens
  • Pregnant women
  • People with respiratory conditions
  • Patients with cardiovascular diseases
  • Smokers & former smokers
  • People with obesity

So, what are the effects of air pollution on human health? The adverse effects of PM2.5 can be categorized according to the duration of exposure, short term and long term.

Short-Term Exposure to Air Quality

PM2.5 produces the most harmful effects on human health due to air pollution, according to WHO’s Global Burden of Disease Project. Its short-term exposure (a few hours to days) can aggravate several respiratory conditions and cause numerous others.

Some common disorders produced by PM2.5 are:

  1. Premature deaths of infants
  2. Increased hospital visits among people with cardiovascular disorders
  3. Increased emergency admissions among people with COPD
  4. Increased risk of hospitalization among children with asthma
  5. Increase in severity of asthma attacks in juveniles

As you can see, short-term exposure to PM2.5 can be deadly. For vulnerable groups, a high PM concentration can cause irreversible damage. That’s why it’s so important to avoid high PM levels.

Long-Term Exposure to Air Quality

When exposed to PM2.5 long-term, you also see a range of adverse effects. Pollutant particles contain metal content, endotoxins, and carcinogenic compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—all extremely lethal to your health.

Year-round exposure to PM2.5 causes a variety of health problems to watch out for.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause conditions like:

  1. Development of asthma in kids
  2. Aggravated COPD in adults
  3. Reduced lung function or capacity
  4. Premature death from cardiovascular diseases
  5. Increased risk of heart attacks and ischemia
  6. Development of cancer
  7. Likely to cause nervous system impairments
  8. Likely to disrupt normal reproductive functions
  9. Increased mortality

How to Avoid Air Pollution?

When the levels of PM2.5 rise above the safe range, here are a few steps you can take to avoid health problems:

  • Stay indoors. Install air filters in your home and spend most of your time there.
  • Avoid strenuous activity. Do not engage in heavy exercise or any activity that makes you breathe faster.
  • Do not burn anything or smoke. When you do this, you produce even more pollutants.
  • Don’t do deep cleaning. Avoid using harmful cleaning products, like sprays and aerosols. Also, don’t vacuum floors as it may stir up the particles in the air that you can inhale.
  • Monitor the air quality around you. It is crucial to learn how to measure particulate matter in the air. Use reliable data to determine when it is safe to open windows and go outside.

Not sure where to start?

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. 

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.