Air pollution is one of the biggest health threats that we face. Currently, 4.2 million people a year die from exposure to pollutants and millions more face serious medical complications. But, even those who escape the most dire consequences of air pollution are not free from risk. A new study shows that exposure to some types of air pollution can cause an unexpected side effect… loss of smell.
What is in the air we breathe?
While the composition of air changes constantly, it’s mostly made up of varying degrees of nitrogen, oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, and ozone. But, there is one more component that is found in both indoor and outdoor air, all over the world… particulate matter.
What exactly is particulate matter?
Particulate matter, or PM, is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.
It’s these very tiny particles (PM2.5 and smaller) that are the most concerning. That’s because PM2.5 and ultrafine particle matter are so small, they are easily inhaled and are able to penetrate deep into your respiratory system.
What is particulate matter made of?
Each location has its own mix of contributors depending on geography and human activity. But, no matter where you’re located, air pollutants come from two sources: nature and human activity
- Natural sources include: windblown dust, dirt and sand, volcanic smoke, and burning materials.
- Man-Made sources include: various forms of combustion, such as from gas-powered transportation, industrial businesses, biomass burning (the burning of plant matter or coal for heating, cooking, and energy), and farming.
How does particulate matter affect your sense of smell?
A recent 5-year-long study of 2690 patients found a strong association between long-term exposure to air pollution and loss of smell, known as anosmia. The findings suggest that even small increases in PM2.5 exposure may be associated with anosmia.
Why is losing your sense of smell such a big deal?
While it may seem like a relatively minor concern, losing your sense of smell can actually be a real problem. Since 80% of the flavour of food comes from its smell, anosmia can often lead to poor appetite and malnutrition, especially in the elderly.
An altered sense of smell may pose other health-related problems as well. People with anosmia may accidentally eat spoiled food or be unaware that they are breathing smoky or toxic air.
Anosmia can also affect your mental health. Studies have linked anosmia to social isolation and anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure and a general sense of detachment from others. When people feel a sense of disconnection, their relationships often become strained, leading to loneliness and worsening mental health.
To minimize your exposure to PM outdoors:
- Check your air quality before going out.
- Go outside in the mornings, when ozone levels are lower.
- Walk away from traffic.
- Stay near trees or shorelines.
To minimize your exposure to PM indoors:
- Ensure that gas stoves are well ventilated.
- Reduce the use of harsh cleaners and scented products.
- Keep windows and doors open as much as possible.
- Purchase a high-quality air purifier with a True HEPA filter.
Why do HEPA filters make such a big difference?
True HEPA filters are able to trap particles of almost any size…. Including PM2.5 and ultrafine particulate matter.
Because of a phenomena known as Brownian Motion, the smallest particles bounce wildly off of other larger particles in the air in random patterns that send them careening off into different directions. These zigzag patterns cause them to hit the fibers of the HEPA filter and get stuck, removing them from your indoor air.
With a high quality purifier, you can be sure that your family will be protected from the many harmful effects of PM exposure, including loss of smell.