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11 July 2019

Research finds air pollution ages your lungs faster and increases your risk of lung disease

Study shows that prolonged exposure to harmful particulates can prematurely age your lungs over a period of decades.


Air pollution will prematurely age the lungs of the average UK citizen by more than four years over the course of their lifetime – raising the risk of chronic lung disease, new research published in European Respiratory Journal suggests.

As a person ages, their lungs function less effectively, in some cases leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties, such as bronchitis and emphysema.

A new study finds that air pollution can accelerate the onset of these diseases by ageing the lungs considerably over a period of decades.

The study finds that long-term exposure to air containing five micrograms of tiny particulate pollution per cubic metre ages the lungs by two years. Two-thirds of the UK population live in areas containing 10 micrograms per cubic metre or more.  

These results of a UK-wide population, yet once again, clearly strengthen the argument for more stringent air pollution control policies in this country to protect our lungs.

Dr Samuel Cai, Early-Career Research Fellow, School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences

Particle pollution is the mix of solid and liquid droplets in the air and can come in the form of dirt, dust, soot or smoke. It comes from coal- and natural gas-fired plants, cars, agriculture, unpaved roads and construction sites.

The research also showed the number of COPD cases was four times higher than if a person lived with smokers and half that of people who had been smokers.

The team studied UK Biobank data on over 300,000 individuals aged 40-69 and tested their lung function. 

Read the full paper here