Skip Navigation

Main sections

Skip section navigation (navigation may have changed)

Due to the lapse in government funding, only websites supporting excepted functions will be updated unless otherwise funded. As a result, the information on this website may not be up to date and the agency will not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted.

Updates regarding government operating status and resumption of normal operations can be found at

Section navigation logo

Health effects of air pollution

A girl coughing into a tissue.

Breathing air that is not clean can hurt your health. Sometimes you have control over how clean the air around you is (for example, by choosing not to smoke). Other times, you have to deal with the air around you without having any control (for example, if your parents smoke). In either case, it is important to know about the health effects that air pollution can have on you and others. Once you know the health effects of air pollution, you can start to protect yourself from dirty air!

Dirty air can cause the following health effects:

  • Asthma. Have you ever run until you were completely out of breath and you had to gasp for air? That is what an asthma (say: AZ-muh) attack feels like. Asthma is a common sickness that causes people to have trouble breathing. Pollution — both indoor and outdoor — can make asthma much worse. Some things that cause asthma are indoors, like animal dander (skin and fur), cockroaches, mice, mold, secondhand smoke, and dust mites. Other things are outdoors, like ground-level ozone. Luckily, there are some things you can do to reduce the triggers that cause asthma.
  • Lung cancer. You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer. Secondhand smoke or radon can cause lung cancer, too!
  • Coughing, throat irritation, and chest pain.If you spend a lot of time exercising on a day with bad air quality, you may cough, your throat may feel scratchy, and you may have chest pain. This is because of the particles in the air.
  • Ear infections. Kids who breathe secondhand smoke and other air pollution on most days get more ear infections.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen and it has no smell. However, it is very dangerous and can cause injury or death. Learn more about CO poisoning.


Content last reviewed July 20, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013