What you need to know about asthma, allergies and air pollution
May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has asthma or allergies, season changes can be hard enough without the impact of climate change worsening your condition. Climate and health go hand in hand. So do asthma and air pollution.
How does climate change make asthma worse?
Climate change increases water and air pollution which can cause and aggravate chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma. It also creates more frequent and intense types of extreme weather, like wildfires, droughts and floods. When the air is polluted by wildfire smoke, especially during the summer months, it can directly cause respiratory problems or worsen any conditions that may already exist.
Airborne particles, found in haze, smoke and airborne dust, present serious air quality problems. Small airborne particles can pass through your nose or mouth and get into your lungs. People with asthma are at greater risk when breathing in small particles because the particles can make asthma worse. Both long-term and short-term exposure can cause health problems such as reduced lung function and more asthma attacks.
Besides asthma attacks, particle pollution can cause heart attacks, early death and lung cancer. The wind can carry these particles for thousands of miles causing air pollution to increase in other areas, which can cause you to have an unknown exposure.
Also, increased temperatures due to climate change lead to increased ground-level ozone, which causes airway inflammation and can damage lung tissue.
What is Ground-level ozone?
Ozone, a gas, is one of the most common air pollutants. Ozone contributes to what we typically experience as "smog" or haze. It is most common in cities where there are more cars. It is also more common in the summer when there is more sunlight and lower winds.
Is ozone toxic? Certain types can be. Ground-level ozone, or “bad ozone,” can be the most harmful for people living with asthma. Ground-level ozone is created when pollutants chemically react with sunlight. These pollutants are emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, oil refineries, chemical plants, and other sources. Ground-level ozone is very likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in densely populated cities and is a major component in urban smog. And ground level ozone effects are not kind to those with pre-existing asthma or those with allergies.
What are the ozone pollution effects?
If you have asthma, you might already know that ozone concentration is directly related to asthma attacks. Ozone pollution effects can reduce lung function, making it more difficult for you to breathe deeply. Ozone triggers asthma because it is very irritating to the lungs and airways. It has also increased the need for more doses of asthma drugs and emergency treatment for asthma.
Who is at the biggest risk when ground-level ozone rises?
The populations most vulnerable to ground-level ozone are children, the elderly, people with lung disease or people who are active outdoors, like outdoor workers. Children are at the greatest risk to ground-level ozone because their lungs are still developing and they tend to spend more time outdoors, especially when the weather is hot. Children are also more likely than adults to have asthma. When ground-level ozone pollution goes up, it usually coincides with more emergency room visits and/or hospitalizations for people with asthma.
How can I avoid bad air quality in my area?
The best way to avoid bad air quality is to check the levels before going outside. There are a variety of free smartphone apps you can download that will give you the information you need in real-time. Find one that works for you and check the levels before planning any outdoor activities.
PurpleAir – PurpleAir makes air sensors that empower a community of citizen scientists that collect hyper-local air quality data and share it with the public. You can check real-time air quality from the data collected by your neighboring citizens.
EPA AIRNow - The Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow mobile app lets you quickly check current and future air quality information for planning daily activities and protecting your health. The app automatically displays the current AQI (Air Quality Index) for your local area or any area you wish to check, and allows you to store multiple areas for quick reference.
Breezometer - The air quality provider for Apple Weather, this app also reports on pollen counts in your area. They use machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide real-time, street-level air quality and pollen data.