When pollution is bad, poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can cause more serious problems.
Pound for pound, children breathe more than adults and are more sensitive to pollution. Their air passages are narrower, so it takes less inflammation or irritation to obstruct their airways, and their lungs are still developing. Children typically spend more time outdoors and are more active. They also are more likely to have asthma or other respiratory illnesses, which are aggravated by air pollution.
Older adults may have undiagnosed heart of lung disease or diabetes that puts them at greater risk. People with diabetes are at increased risk in part because they also have a higher risk of underlying cardiovascular disease.
Even healthy adults of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are susceptible to air pollution because they have a higher level of exposure. Exercise causes people to breathe faster and more deeply, drawing more air into the lungs. In the case of ozone, the most serious effects will be in the afternoon hours.