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How Fast Will Smog Kill You?

You may not pay attention to the amount of smog in the air, but it's important to steer clear of heavy smog every chance you get.

You’ve probably heard about smog, and how dangerous it can be for you to breathe in. But have you ever wondered just how bad this type of pollution really is, and how fast smog can kill you? Knowing more about it may be just what you need to lower your smog exposure.

What is Smog?

Smog, as the name implies, resembles a mixture of smoke and fog (or other chemical combinations of pollutants and sometimes the sun) that forms in the air as a result of coal burning, vehicle emissions, fires, and industrial emissions—just to name a few. Smog is a problem in many large cities, and can be harmful to human health. This is especially true for people with weakened immune systems, those with heart conditions, and people with lung problems (like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema).

Why Smog Kills

If you’re in an at-risk category (have a weak immune system—as in the case of children and older adults—or a heart or lung condition), smog may harm you faster than most. Smog can cause you to experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, pain during breathing, inflammation of breathing passages, nose irritation, eye irritation, dried nasal and throat membranes, and interference with your body’s ability to fight illness and infections.

People Killed by Smog

More people than you might think die from smog-related complications each year. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reports that air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths annually in the U.S, with road transportation emissions being the biggest contributor followed by power generation. MIT also says that residents of California suffer the worst health complications from air pollution compared with other U.S. states. Chronic lower respiratory illnesses (which can be worsened by smog) is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., causing more than 155,000 deaths yearly, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Fast Smog Kills

The amount of time it takes for smog to kill depends on a variety of factors, like how heavy the smog is (density of air pollutants), length of time you’re exposed to smog, and how healthy you are when you breathe it in. Smog can lead to complications of preexisting health conditions, killing over a period of many years.

Generally speaking, heavy exposure to smog may kill you earlier than you normally would die (takes years off your life), but this type of early death might not be attributed to air pollution. If you’re living in an area with known high amounts of smog (like China), your risk for early death goes up. In the year 1952, a “killer fog” happened in London when a combination of pollutants formed a thick dark fog that killed more than 12,000 people in a period of just a few days.

Bottom Line

Smog doesn’t necessarily kill you right away but can lead to early death—especially in people with lung or heart problems and those with weak immune systems. It's nearly impossible to avoid smog entirely. So your best bet when you want to maximize your life expectancy, is to avoid breathing in smog when you can and live or work in places with little smog.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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