New Study Finds Link between Air Pollution and Depression in Older Adults

A correlation has been discovered by Harvard and Emory University researchers between depression diagnosis in individuals aged 64 years or older and prolonged exposure to air pollution. The research suggests that long-term exposure to air pollution may have a detrimental impact on mental health. New Study Finds Link between Air Pollution and Depression in Older Adults.

The impact of depression on older adults is a matter of concern and is comparable in significance to dementia, according to the authors. They observe that previous research has demonstrated the effect of air pollution on mental health, and their study adds to this body of evidence by highlighting a link between long-term exposure to air pollution and a diagnosis of depression after the age of 64.

Health Effects of Air Pollution

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and particles present in air pollution are known to contribute to this deadly disease. Worldwide, approximately 6% of fatalities attributable to outdoor air pollution are linked to lung cancer. In addition, unclean air may also be a contributing factor in other forms of cancer, including bladder and urinary tract cancers.

Asthma Attacks

Air pollution comprises visible pollutants such as smoke and invisible ones like carbon monoxide. These pollutants are not natural components of the air we breathe. Asthma sufferers are particularly vulnerable to two primary types of air pollutants: ozone, a gas that contributes to smog and impacts breathing, and tiny particles similar to those present in dust or smoke that can get trapped in the lungs. Such particles can harm the lungs, leading to an increase in asthma attacks.

Chronic Bronchitis

The air we breathe is contaminated by exhaust emissions from automobiles, trucks, and other vehicles. Residents of urban areas who are regularly exposed to traffic fumes may develop chronic bronchitis, a persistent inflammation of the bronchial tubes, responsible for carrying air to the lungs. Chronic bronchitis can lead to symptoms such as coughing up thick mucus, shortness of breath, and the discharge of mucus that may appear white, yellow, or green in color.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, encompasses chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is a prevalent medical condition. The disease causes obstruction of the airways within the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing. The primary cause of COPD is prolonged exposure to gases, particles, or smoke. Studies indicate that regions with high levels of air pollution have a higher incidence of COPD. Those suffering from COPD may experience increased difficulty breathing in polluted air, and severe cases may necessitate hospitalization or even result in death.


The presence of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide in air pollution increases the likelihood of developing pneumonia, a condition characterized by inflammation of the lungs. Symptoms of pneumonia can include chest discomfort, coughing, exhaustion, difficulty breathing, and fever. In particular, children and the elderly are at a higher risk for pneumonia due to air pollution, and older adults with pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to be hospitalized due to pneumonia resulting from prolonged exposure to polluted air. It is worth noting that older adults may not experience a fever as a symptom of pneumonia. Additionally, pneumonia is a leading cause of childhood mortality globally.

Heart Disease

Exposure to air pollution can increase the likelihood of heart attacks, arrhythmias, heart failure, and strokes. The small size of the particles in polluted air allows them to infiltrate blood vessels and provoke inflammation. As a result, heart disease can develop more rapidly. Individuals living in close proximity to busy roads or industrial areas face a greater risk of exposure to harmful air pollution. However, even brief exposure to polluted air can have negative effects on heart health.

Mental Illness

Research has indicated a significant correlation between air quality and mental wellbeing. A study conducted on medical records from the United States and Denmark, involving over 150 million individuals, revealed that residing in areas of the U.S. with high levels of air pollution was associated with a 27% increase in the incidence of bipolar disorder and a 6% increase in major depression. These findings highlight the potential impact of poor air quality on mental health.

Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, resulting in tissue damage and inflammation around vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Some researchers suggest that air pollution could trigger an immune response in the lungs, potentially leading to the development of autoimmune conditions. The precise mechanism underlying this relationship is not yet fully understood. However, it is believed that particles from polluted air may enter the lungs and provoke an immune attack response, contributing to the development of autoimmune disorders.


Air pollution, including ozone and tiny particles, has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage during the first half of pregnancy. The exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, but researchers believe that inflammation near the placenta may be involved. A research study conducted in the United States and Israel analyzed traffic-related air pollution and identified a correlation between higher exposure to air pollution and an increased risk of miscarriage between the 10th and 20th weeks of pregnancy.

Premature Birth

Air pollution has been found to be associated with preterm birth, where the baby is born before completing the full term of pregnancy. The chemicals in the pollution can enter a pregnant woman’s bloodstream and cause harm to the developing fetus, leading to early delivery. Preterm birth can result in health complications for the baby both in the short-term and the long-term. In addition, exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight of the baby.