Clearing the Air: Leveraging Science to Address Air Pollution-Related Symptoms

Woman in hat overlooking a dense city.

Clearing the Air: Leveraging Science to Address Air Pollution-Related Symptoms


With 99% of people breathing air containing high levels of pollutants,1 is it any surprise that outdoor air pollution has the potential to disrupt daily life for millions of people suffering from nonallergic rhinitis?

For Leslie Zhang, a Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health scientist who lives in China with his family, finding ways to reduce symptoms triggered by air pollution hits close to home. Zhang remembers what life was like before efforts were made to improve air quality. Previously, China was home to some of the most polluted cities in the world.3

“During that time, I often experienced a scratchy throat and nasal congestion on days when air quality levels worsened across the city,” recalls Leslie. It was clear to him then that better options to help alleviate air pollution-related upper airway symptoms were needed.


Nonallergic rhinitis is the medical term for symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose, caused by non-allergy related irritants including high levels of air pollution.2


Bringing Relief to Millions Around the World

Armed with the knowledge that relief for nonallergic rhinitis remained an unmet and growing global need, our researchers conducted a multi-site study—which was the first phase 4 study of its kind—to determine if our existing intranasal corticosteroid treatment provided relief from symptoms triggered by airborne pollution. Following the air pollution research study’s conclusion, it was clear that the product’s active ingredient significantly improved nasal symptoms in adults with rhinitis triggered or worsened by airborne pollution.

“From my own experience in China, I know how important it is to have treatment options that can alleviate symptoms triggered by air pollution,” said Leslie. “As one of the authors for this study, it was quite a feeling watching my professional world collide with the experiences my family and I dealt with in real-life.”

“This study not only helps us understand how to treat airborne pollution symptoms, but it’s also a reminder that sometimes the solutions we need are already available to us if we just look close enough.”


Dr. Kerstin Wagner, Applied Science Lead for Self Care at J&J Consumer Health, believes this air pollution research and its findings will benefit more people over time as the world continues to grapple with the impact of air pollution, particularly in large urban areas where allergies are on the rise.

“We know climate change is causing longer pollen seasons, which is bad news for the millions of people who suffer from pollen allergies. But even worse, we are learning that the pollen surface is changing because of its interaction with airborne pollution, making it more aggressive,” explained Kerstin.


“If there is one thing that is clear to me, it is that all of us must work together to protect the health of our planet and the people who call it home.” Dr. Kerstin Wagner



Our Commitment to Improving Human Health and Protecting Our Planet

Our work to find symptom relief for nonallergic rhinitis is only a piece of the broader Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health efforts to help improve the health and wellbeing of people around the world. In 2020, we launched our Healthy Lives Mission, an $800 million commitment built on the philosophy that people need healthy places to live, work and play.

This effort helps our company to further its commitment to improving the health of the more than 1 billion consumers we serve, with an added pledge to help protect their communities and the world in which we all live in.

“As a scientist, it feels overwhelming at times when I look at the magnitude of the problems in front of us,” said Kerstin. “But I’m proud of our commitment to doing our part to improve the health and wellbeing of people around the world and our ongoing efforts to infuse sustainability into our products and work.”


Woman blowing a lily


1 World Health Organization. (n.d.). Air Pollution. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from

2 Mayo Clinic. (2021, March 4). Nonallergic rhinitis. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from

3 The World Bank. (2020, June 21). China: Fighting Air Pollution and Climate Change through Clean Energy Financing. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from