Is PM2.5 bad for my health?

PM2.5 particles can cause serious health problems, both short-term and long-term. Made up of chemicals like nitrates and sulphates, these particles are so small that they are easily absorbed into our bloodstream and can get deep into our lungs.


Air pollution affects everyone

Everyone can be affected by air pollution, especially when exposed over long periods of time. In fact, living in heavily polluted cities can shorten life expectancy by as many as three or four years.


PM2.5 makes pre-existing health problems worse

Short-term exposure to PM2.5 seems to make pre-existing health problems worse. Short-term in this context means days or even just hours of exposure. It can lead to:

  • Irritated eyes, nose and throat
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing due to aggravated asthma and lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) in people with heart disease
  • Increases in hospital admissions
  • Premature death due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases

PM2.5 increases the rate of illness progression

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 not only causes diseases but also increases the rate of illness progression (how fast you become seriously ill). Long-term in this context means years of exposure. It can lead to:

  • Reduced lung function
  • Development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • Diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes in people with no history of these problems
  • Increased rate of disease progression (your illness gets worse faster)
  • Reduction in life expectancy (premature death)

The average Jakarta resident will lose 4.8 years of their life expectancy

PM2.5 also has a serious impact on life expectancy. In Jakarta, the average resident will lose 4.8 years from their life expectancy due to air pollution. Much of this impact is due to PM2.5.


Children, elderly, pregnant women and people with pre-existing conditions are more vulnerable

Some groups of people are more vulnerable than others when it comes to air pollution. People with asthma, people with lung disease, and people with heart disease are particularly affected and should reduce their time in polluted air as much as possible. Pregnant women and their babies are also at risk, as are young children and elderly people. For more information, please see the dedicated sections on these three groups.


There is no healthy threshold

Even at very low concentrations, PM2.5 can have health impacts. In fact, no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed. This is why the WHO air quality guidelines aim to achieve the lowest concentrations of PM possible.

If you experience any of these health issues and your symptoms are worse on bad air pollution days, it is best you see a doctor as soon as possible.

Because the impacts of PM2.5 and other pollutants are so bad for our health, it is important that we understand, measure, and use data on air quality. 


References

Air Quality Life Index. 2020. Indonesia Fact Sheet.

Apte, Joshua S., Michael Brauer, Aaron J. Cohen, Majid Ezzati, and C. Arden Pope III. 2018. ‘Ambient PM2.5 reduces global and regional life expectancy’, Environmental Science and Technology Letters 5(9):546-551. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.8b00360