Invisible threats blow past your bodily defenses with every breath you take. Save your lung power and fight back.

Formaldehyde. Radioactive chemicals. Bug droppings. You wouldn’t dare eat food laced with this stuff – heck, you’d probably alert the health department. And yet you may be sucking down these toxins, and a flurry of others, with every breath. “Most people aren’t aware of the dangers of the air they breathe. The contaminants are often invisible, and the harmful effects may not be dramatic at first,” says Dr Anne Steinemann, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Washington. “But exposures add up over time, and so does the damage.”

In fact, a growing body of research suggests that airborne contaminants may impair your memory, weaken your sperm, and raise your risk of heart disease and cancer. “The biggest airbourne enemies South Africa faces are smoking, indoor fuel pollution from coal and wood, ambient pollution from industry and traffic” says Prof Rodney Ehrlich from the Centre for Occupation and Environmental Health Research at UCT. Worse, your body has no internal smoke alarm to signal danger. So we’ve identified the biggest airborne enemies and outlined strategies to help you protect your lungs – and your life.