High Heat, Air Pollution, Air Quality Create Problems for People with Asthma

 

What do high heat, air pollution and poor air quality have in common? They can make life miserable for all of us, especially if you have asthma.

When we think of summer, we usually think of outdoor fun like swimming, cookouts, sporting events and going to the park. But with summer also comes a combination of heat and smog that can create bad air quality. Heat, air pollution and ragweed pollen create problems in the fall too. Since we spend more time outside in these warmer months, these combinations can be hard on your airways.

Asthma is a chronic disease that causes your airways to get inflamed (swollen), making it hard to breathe. Inflamed airways are more sensitive to irritants and harsh temperatures. These are called triggers. High heat, smog and poor air quality can all trigger asthma symptoms.

What Is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is made up of particles that can be both man-made and natural. It can include:

  • Gases and fuels from industry and transportation (like ozone)
  • Smoke from fires
  • Volcanic ash
  • Dust

All of these particles in the air can get in your nose or mouth, making asthma worse. Small particles can make a big impact when they reach the lungs of someone with asthma.

What’s Ozone?

Ozone, a gas, is good when it is high in the atmosphere. But ground-level ozone can irritate the lining of the lungs, causing damage. It can reduce lung function and make it harder for you to breathe. Research has directly linked ozone to asthma attacks.1

As the heat goes up, so does ozone. It creates a perfect environment for higher levels as the heat and sunlight combine with pollution from cars, power plants and more.

What’s Air Quality?

Air quality is basically a measurement of all of these factors. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks and reports ozone and air pollution levels. This is called the Air Quality Index (AQI).

The EPA uses a color system to report the AQI. Good air quality is green. Yellow indicates a rise in air pollution. While the air quality is acceptable, it may cause problems for some with asthma at this level. For example, all children, regardless of whether they have asthma or not, are considered a sensitive group. An AQI of 101 or more, orange, is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.

AQI_table

If you have asthma, you should be careful when the air quality is yellow or higher. When the AQI hits 101 or higher, people with asthma can be greatly affected. You might have to increase your medicines or decrease activities on these days. Avoid working or exercising outdoors on these days.

How Can I Manage My Asthma Symptoms With Bad Air Quality?

If you have asthma, it’s a good idea to keep track of air quality in your area. The EPA’s AirNow site has daily air quality reports. You can also sign up for email alerts. These alerts can help you know to watch for and prevent symptoms on action alert days.

If possible, rearrange your schedule so you are indoors on bad air days during 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. These are times when ozone is highest.

Also, see a board-certified allergist to help you come up with an asthma management plan. With the right medicines and avoiding your triggers, you may be able to prevent or lessen some of the symptoms bad air quality can cause.

Enjoy the summer, but wisely. While you may need to keep an eye on the weather and air quality, you shouldn’t let that spoil your warm-weather fun. By avoiding your triggers and following a treatment plan, you should still be able to be to enjoy all the summer has to offer.

Image credit: Weather.gov

Medical Review July2017.

References
1. Air Pollution. (2014, December 11). Retrieved July 06, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/climateand...ts/air_pollution.htm

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