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July 2015

Air Pollution May Raise Your Anxiety

You can’t always see air pollution. But your body may still feel its effects. Consider people with asthma. They may find it harder to breathe when too many toxins are in the air. A recent finding suggests one more ill effect of air pollution: heightened anxiety.

Smokestack with column of smoke

Air pollution and anxiety

In a recent study, researchers assessed whether air pollution may worsen the symptoms of anxiety. To do so, they looked at the mental health of nearly 70,000 women. These women took part in the Nurses’ Health Study. It’s an ongoing research program in which thousands of nurses answer periodic surveys about their health.

For their study, the researchers focused on responses about anxiety. They compared those results with estimated levels of air pollution near each woman’s home. Their finding: Women exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter (PM) had worse anxiety symptoms.

What might account for this effect? Researchers think air pollution may weaken the body’s ability to fend off diseases. It may also affect how cells function. That may in turn lead to anxiety. Air pollution may also worsen other health problems, such as heart disease. Having a hard time managing a chronic condition could raise anxiety levels.

More about particulate matter

The air you breathe can contain up to 187 toxins. Volcanoes and forest fires can release pollutants into the air. But many toxins come from vehicles and factories. PM makes up a large part of these.

PM is also known as particle pollution. These small bits of toxins, allergens, and other matter hang in the air. If inhaled, they can enter your lungs and blood. Once there, they may damage organs and cells.

In addition to possibly being linked to anxiety, PM and other air pollutants are considered carcinogens. That means they may cause cancer. Past research has also linked air pollution to many other health problems. These include heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.


Read more about the health effects of air pollution.


Breathe Better Air

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency works to reduce toxins in the air you breathe. You can do your part, too. Follow these steps from the American Lung Association:

  • Cut back on your energy use. You’ll save the environment and money.

  • Reconsider your commute. Take public transit or carpool. Or try biking or walking to work.

  • Avoid using gas-powered lawn equipment. Lawn mowers, blowers, and other lawn tools that call for gas often don’t have pollution-control devices. Choose electrical or hand-powered instead.

  • Don’t burn wood or trash. Soot is a major source of pollution. Gas fireplaces are better for the environment.

  • Keep an eye on air quality levels. Local newspapers and weather reports often forecast air quality. If you have asthma or another health problem, you may want to exercise inside when levels are unhealthy.


Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/29/2015
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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