Fertility of woman and man General

The Impact of Air Pollutants on Male Fertility

Male fertility is threatened by air pollution

Air pollutants may not only affect our health and wellbeing, but may even impair male fertility.

In recent years, we’ve seen a worrying trend emerge: a decline in semen quality and an increase in male infertility. This has led to a lot of research into what’s causing it, and it has been found that it can be down to a number of different things, from our lifestyle to the environment. Things like diet, stress, smoking, and exposure to chemicals, pesticides, heat, and air pollutants have all been linked to this decline.

Air pollutants

While mostly invisible, air pollution is a real thing. It’s caused by tiny particles in the air that can be harmful to our health. These particles come from all sorts of sources, like factories, cars, and even our homes. There are many different types of these particles, and they can be grouped together based on their size, where they come from, and how they affect us.

Some of the most common types of air pollution are:

– Particulate matter (PM)

– Ground-level ozone (O3)

– Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

These particles can affect our lungs, heart, and even our DNA. They can make us feel tired, dizzy, or even make it harder for our bodies to fight off infections.

To give you an idea: in 2021, around 183,600 tonnes of particulate matter (PM10) were emitted in Germany, for example.

air pollution affects our health and fertility

Air pollution and male fertility

Most of us know that air pollution can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. But did you know that it can also affect our fertility? While there’s been lots of research into the effects of air pollution on our general health, there hasn’t been as much focus on its impact on male fertility. The latest studies are starting to show us that there might be a worrying link between exposure to air pollutants and male reproductive health. Particulate matter (PM) is one of the pollutants that we need to be aware of, as it’s made up of tiny particles that can be inhaled. These particles have a diameter of between 2.5 and 10 micrometres. It’s been shown in research that if you’re exposed to PM for too long or too much, it can affect your semen quality. This can affect things like how well your sperm move, how healthy they look, and how many there are. These effects can have a big impact on your fertility and your reproductive health.

There are other air pollutants that can also affect your semen quality. These include nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Air pollutants can affect your semen quality in different ways. They can affect it directly or indirectly. For example, air pollution can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in male urogenital tract, disrupting the delicate balance of reproductive function in men. In addition to that, exposure to air pollutants has even been shown to alter sperm DNA methylation. This is associated to adverse offspring health outcomes such as low birth weight.

How to protect fertility

As the evidence linking air pollution to male fertility and health of offspring continues to mount, it becomes increasingly important to address this invisible threat.

The good news is that we can take simple steps to reduce our exposure to air pollution. For instance, we can:

– Keep windows closed when driving in dense traffic or underground car parks

– Use air filters in homes

– Use protection at your workplace or at home when exposure is likely

It’s also important to raise awareness and make sure we have strong environmental regulations in place to protect our reproductive health from the effects of air pollution. We also need to do more research into how these pollutants affect male fertility so we can find ways to help men and their families.



Cai X, Ni H, Wang Q, Dai T, Wang L, Song C, Li Y, Li F, Meng T, Sheng H, Xiao L, Xu T, Yu X, Zeng Q, Guo P, Zhang X. Sperm quality decline associated with gaseous pollutant exposure: Evidence from a large cohort multicenter study. J Hazard Mater. 2023 Oct 15;460:132330.

Cheng Y, Feng J, Wang J, Zhou Y, Bai S, Tang Q, Li J, Pan F, Xu Q, Lu C, Wu W, Xia Y. Alterations in sperm DNA methylation may as a mediator of paternal air pollution exposure and offspring birth outcomes: Insight from a birth cohort study. Environ Res. 2024 Mar 1;244:117941.

Cheng Y, Zhu J, Tang Q, Wang J, Feng J, Zhou Y, Li J, Pan F, Han X, Lu C, Wang X, Langston ME, Chung BI, Wu W, Xia Y. Exposure to particulate matter may affect semen quality via trace metals: Evidence from a retrospective cohort study on fertile males. Chemosphere. 2024 Jan;346:140582.

Lien HT, Tsai NC, Lin YJ, Lan KC. The effect of various air pollution and participants’ age on semen quality in southern Taiwan. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2023 Nov;62(6):838-844.

Ma Y, Hu C, Cai G, Xia Q, Fan D, Cao Y, Pan F. Associations of exposure to ambient fine particulate matter constituents from different pollution sources with semen quality: Evidence from a prospective cohort. Environ Pollut. 2024 Feb 15;343:123200.


Zhang Y, Wei J, Zhao S, Zeng Q, Sun S, Cao W. Ambient fine particulate matter constituents and semen quality among adult men in China. J Hazard Mater. 2024 Mar 5;465:133313.



About the author

Dr. rer. nat. Birgit Wogatzky

For many years now, biologist and nutritionist Dr Birgit Wogatzky, has been focusing on the special needs of fertility patients. For the readers of this blog, she sums up interesting novel information and developments from current research projects regarding lifestyle and nutrition of fertility patients.