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Particle Pollution and Your Patients' Health

Learn about the Particle Pollution and Your Patients' Health Course

On this page:

Course Overview

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter or PM, is the main component of haze, smoke, and dust. An extensive body of scientific evidence shows exposure to ambient particles can cause adverse cardiovascular effects and premature death and is likely to cause respiratory effects. People with heart or lung diseases, children (less than 18 years old), older adultsHelpolder adults In many studies, older adults are defined as ages 65 years and older due to age definitions provided in health datasets such as the Medicare database. In terms of increased risk from air pollution, there is not a specific age at which someone is considered “older” because people age at different rates. As a person ages, there is greater susceptibility to environmental hazards due to a number of factors, including higher prevalence of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, as well as the gradual decline in physiological defenses that occur as part of the aging process. , people with diabetes, and people of lower socio-economic status (SES)Helplower socio-econonmic status (SES) A composite measure that is often comprised of a number of indicators, including economic status measured by income, social status measured by education, and work status measured by occupation. Each of these linked factors can influence a population's susceptibility to particle pollution-related health effects (Dutton and Levine, 1989). are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.

An easy way physicians and other health professionals can help reduce risk from exposure is through patient education. The simple steps of advising patients to check the air quality daily, and informing them of ways to minimize exposure to particle pollution, can help reduce overall risk of particle pollution-related health effects, particularly in individuals with heart and lung disease. The Air Quality Index (AQI)HelpAir Quality Index (AQI) A nationally uniform index for reporting and forecasting daily air quality. It is used to report on the four most common ambient air pollutants that are regulated under the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). The AQI focuses on health effects that may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. lets patients know when it’s a good idea to switch up outdoor activities to reduce the amount of pollution exposure.  Note that this patient education is consistent with the recommendations of an expert panel that authored the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on “Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease”(Brook et al., 2010).

Course Objectives

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Explain what size particles are the greatest health concern and where and when they are a problem.
  • Identify how particle pollution exposure affects the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
  • Identify how particle pollution exposure can affect the general population.
  • Identify how particle pollution exposure affects patients with cardiovascular or respiratory disease.
  • Explain the purpose and use of the Air Quality Index for advising patients how to protect their health.
  • Discuss methods to reduce exposure during high particle pollution events.
  • Address typical patient questions and clinical scenarios relating to particle pollution exposure.

Continuing Education

See the details about the continuing education (CME, CNE and CEU) available for this course. 

How to Use This Training

You can complete this course in order by using the NEXT and PREVIOUS links at the bottom of each page, or you can use the links below to take the training in whatever order you choose. Total time to complete the course is approximately 90 minutes.

  • What Is Particle Pollution?Describes what particle pollution is, what size particles are a health concern, where particle pollution comes from and where and when it is a problem.
  • Particle Pollution Exposure - Explains why particle pollution exposure is a health concern, what groups are at greatest risk of a health effect, how people are exposed, and what happens when particle pollution enters the body.
  • Cardiovascular Effects - Focuses on the cardiovascular effects attributed to acute and chronic particle pollution exposure, especially in patients with cardiovascular disease. 
  • Respiratory Effects - Focuses on the respiratory effects attributed to acute and chronic particle pollution exposure, especially in patients with respiratory diseases including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Patient Exposure and the Air Quality IndexExplains the purpose and use of the Air Quality Index as a tool for protecting patients’ health.
  • Patient Exposure and High Particle Pollution EventsExplains what a high particle pollution event is and steps to reduce exposure.
  • Clinical ScenariosPresents six clinical scenarios to test your knowledge.
  • Frequent QuestionsProvides information for counseling patients, especially those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease, about particle pollution and their health.
  • Course Outline/Key PointsProvides an outline of the course and key points for each section.
  • Review QuestionsPresents questions to test your knowledge.
  • Patient Education ToolsIncludes downloadable publications (in English and Spanish) and links to related EPA Web pages.
  • Course EvaluationThree quick questions to evaluate and help EPA improve the course.
  • References - Lists references for the course.
  • GlossaryDefines key terms and acronyms related to air pollution.

Course Evaluation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) welcomes your feedback on this course. Use the Course Evaluation page to provide feedback or the Contact Us links at the top and bottom of each page to ask a question.