Air Pollution's Harmful Effects on the Elderly


Air pollution is a health concern for everyone, but even more so for the elderly. Due to the factors that affect seniors, what would cause a younger and healthier person a mild discomfort, can turn into a chronic and even fatal infection for an older person.

The strike against the elderly when it comes to air pollution is the fact that they have been alive longer, and have breathed in more pollution that someone younger. Of course, this is not a universal truth. If they have lived in areas where there is less air pollution, or not worked in jobs where they were exposed to a lot of air pollution, they will have less particulate matter in their lungs than a younger person that works in coal mines. But, as a general rule, an older person has “dirtier” lungs, and that makes them more likely to develop respiratory problems.

Another factor at play is that the elderly have weaker immune systems. It simply follows that as the body gets physically weaker, so does all the other systems at work in the body. With the loss of physical vigor, hormone levels drop, healing takes longer, and the immune system will struggle with bacteria that it once dispatched with ease. This is a huge reason why an unhealthful pollution index will cause discomfort for a young athlete, but seniors are advised to stay indoors.

Finally, with age and the weakening of the body’s ability to filter out and dispose of air pollution come other diseases affecting both the heart and the lungs. So, when the air pollution index is up, these diseases can become worse. Studies have shown that hospitals around the country know well that when the ozone and particulate matter is up, the number of seniors coming in the emergency room will increase.

So, what can be done to keep the air from getting older folks down? Well, first off, they need to be aware of any health concerns they might have that can be made worse by air pollution. Hay fever shouldn’t be too big an issue for grandma to handle with some over the counter medication, but emphysema and COPD are entirely different matters. When the pollution indexes are up, advisories are made for anyone with respiratory illness to not venture outside. Sometimes, these go further and advise against any strenuous outside activity for everyone. These warnings should be taken with concern and the elderly should stay indoors on these days.

Now, the indoor air pollution can sometimes be worse than it is outside, and also cause seniors to experience serious issues. Luckily, technology has made it so that we can finally clean the air inside the house so that is breathable and clean.

There are numerous air filtration systems that can remove a lot of the matter you see floating around in the sun light that peeks through the blinds. As for which one that you go with, that is mostly a matter of preference. HEPA filters are good at removing the particles from the air that can cause a respiratory episode, but the filters need to be cleaned frequently, or else they clog up. Carbon activated filters are good for removing foul odors and gaseous chemicals that the HEPA filter cannot. Carbon filters however cannot remove dust, pollen, and larger particles so it is recommended to purchase an air purifier with both a HEPA and a carbon activated filter. The two filters will work to remove 99.97% of airborne contaminants. No matter what you select, make sure to follow all manufacturers’ recommendations and schedules.

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