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How Air Pollution Affects Health

Breathing polluted air makes people sick. When you breathe polluted air, the pollution passes through your lungs into your bloodstream. From there, it can reach your heart, brain, and other organs. Pollution can even pass through the placenta to affect a developing fetus. Pollution causes inflammation in your lungs and other body parts. Because of this, air pollution accounts for a large portion of deaths related to several major diseases.

global deaths figure

Air pollution does not affect everyone equally. People living in poorer regions suffer a higher burden, and most deaths occur in young children and older adults. This reflects differences in air pollution exposures as well as social, economic, and demographic factors that affect a person’s underlying health status, level of vulnerability, and access to medical care. Sometimes pollution causes health problems that are noticeable right away, but most problems build up gradually.

Total number of deaths attributable to total air pollution in 2021. Hover or tap to explore the data.


  • Impact on Life Expectancy

    Based on 2019 data, scientists estimate that air pollution exposure shortens the average person’s lifespan by 1.8 years.

  • Impacts on Children Under Five

    In 2021, a total of 709,000 deaths in children under five were linked to exposure to air pollution, representing 15% of all global deaths in children under five years.

  • Impacts on Newborns

    Scientists estimate that in 2019, 476,000 infants died in their first month of life from health effects associated with air pollution exposure.

  • Impacts on Noncommunicable Diseases

    Noncommunicable diseases are long-lasting or chronic conditions that do not spread from person to person.