Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Microscopic particles in the air we breathe can contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Published: November, 2020

We've all spent much of 2020 worried about inhaling invisible virus particles. But the air we breathe contains other unseen particles that also may threaten our health. Air pollution spewed from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles contains microscopic particulate matter that can burrow deep inside our lungs.

These particles are less than 2.5 microns in diameter — so tiny that 30 of them sitting side by side are about the same diameter as a strand of human hair. Known as PM2.5, they pass through your lungs into your bloodstream, causing inflammation and another cell-damaging process known as oxidative stress.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

New subscriptions to Harvard Health Online are temporarily unavailable. Click the button below to learn about our other subscription offers.

Learn More »