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What symptoms of poor outdoor air quality overlap with COVID-19?

Who is most at risk?

Respiratory distress and heart failure are some symptoms of COVID-19 that overlap with symptoms of poor outdoor air quality.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) states COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. It can affect your upper respiratory tract (sinuses, nose, and throat) or lower respiratory tract (windpipe and lungs). COVID-19 affects different people differently and has a wide range of symptoms, but the most common are fever/chills, cough and shortness of breath.

The Mayo Clinic states those at higher risk of developing dangerous symptoms from COVID-19 are older adults (especially age 85+) and individuals with “underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease.”

Outdoor air pollution

While ground-level ozone and particle pollution pose the largest threats to human health, responses to these outdoor air pollutants can vary greatly. Ozone, or smog, can irritate your respiratory system, especially if you suffer from asthma or other lung diseases.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, symptoms of ozone exposure can include:

  • Coughing
  • Throat irritation
  • Pain, burning, or discomfort in the chest when taking a deep breath
  • Chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath

Measuring particulate pollution with TSI's BlueSkyMicroscopic airborne particles, or particulate matter smaller than PM10, can get into deep places in your lungs or bloodstream; this can affect both your lungs and your heart. Even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particles.

Symptoms of particle pollution exposure can vary from eye, nose or throat irritation to premature death:

  • Increased respiratory symptoms
  • Aggravated asthma
  • Decreased lung function
  • Heart attacks
  • Premature death in people with preexisting heart or lung disease

The groups most vulnerable to air pollution are children and teenagers, older adults, individuals with preexisting heart disease, those living by pollution sources, and those who spend a lot of time outdoors, per the American Lung Association.

Learn more about the importance of air quality on the United States' EPA AirNow website: https://www.airnow.gov/air-quality-and-health/

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