Does Air Pollution Cause Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes a person's airways to narrow and become inflamed. This can lead to coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and an increase in mucus production. Asthma attacks can be caused by a number of different triggers, including physical activity, allergies, cold air, and stress. However, people with asthma are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, especially children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to air pollution can trigger and worsen asthma attacks and may contribute to childhood asthma.

An EPA-funded study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that children who were exposed to particulate matter were more likely to develop asthma and require emergency medical care. Another study published in Clinical Epigenetics in 2018 found that exposure to air pollutants, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter, can alter genes that regulate the immune system.

How to manage asthma

If your asthma is triggered or worsened by air pollution, you may be wondering how you can treat and manage it on a daily basis. If you live in an area with worsening air quality, inhaled corticosteroids can help relieve your symptoms. According to Everyday Health, corticosteroids can help relieve swelling and inflammation in the airways. In addition, bronchodilators can help by widening your airways and relaxing the muscles in your lungs. 

The key to reducing symptoms and preventing attacks, however, is to take asthma medications on a regular and continual basis. "Compliance with medication is one of the biggest problems, particularly for people who only have asthma sporadically," Dr. Marsha Wills-Karp, an asthma researcher and chair of the department of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Everyday Health. It's also helpful to stay indoors when the air quality in your area is bad. You can check your local air quality rating on your phone's weather app or by visiting