Most of us who have asthma find that our asthma control is largely dependent on the quality of the air we breathe from minute to minute. People with allergic asthma, in particular, know that airborne allergens are their biggest challenge. Pollen, mold spores, dust mites and pet allergens all can circulate freely in the air and can be found almost everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
But even if you don’t have allergic asthma, poor air quality can be a huge factor in your ability to stay healthy. So, aside from allergens, what are some of the things that can affect air quality?
There are two main air pollutants that affect people with asthma: ozone and particle pollution.
Ozone is a chemical found in the air in areas with pollution tied to heavy vehicle use, such as cities, or pollutants related to manufacturing. Ozone acts as a protective layer high above the earth, but it can be harmful to breathe at ground level. Ground-level ozone can be emitted by any gas-producing machinery, including lawn equipment, boats and other engines.
Particle pollution is found in haze, smoke, and dust. In my area of the country near the western mountains, particle pollution can be a big problem for air quality. During the summer, we often have forest fires that spread smoke for hundreds of miles. And during the winter, low-lying clouds can trap smoke for days or even weeks from wood stoves and other sources close to the earth.
Each of these threats to air quality can make it hard to keep your asthma under control, even if you’re diligent about taking your medicine. If you are unlucky enough to live in an area where both ozone and particle pollution exist, then control becomes even more challenging.
So what can you do to prevent poor air quality from wreaking havoc with your respiratory health?
Tips for Dealing with Poor Air Qualit. Figure out how sensitive you really are to air quality. A symptom diary can help with this. Try to notice how you feel when you go out on smoggy or smoky days. Track it through the next day, too. Sometimes, the reaction can be delayed. Also, notice if your sensitivity to allergens is worsened after you’re exposed to poor quality air.
2. Learn how to tell when air quality is poor. Sometimes, you can see haze or smoke just by looking out the window. But other times, the air quality may not be that good, even if it looks like a nice, sunny day.
For instance, ozone is often worst on hot summer days, especially in the afternoons and early evenings. Particle pollution can be bad any time of year, even in winter. It can be especially bad when the weather is calm, allowing air pollution to build up. Particle levels can also be high around busy roads with heavy traffic or around factories. Plus, they can be elevated, as mentioned above, when there is smoke in the air, whether from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces or from burning vegetation.
3. Modify your activities. Once you know the air quality, you can plan your activities accordingly. Definitely stay indoors as much as you can, keeping windows and doors closed as much as possible. If you must go out, do your most vigorous activities in the early morning, when air quality is usually best. Or change to less intense outdoor activities, so that you’re not breathing in as much of that poor quality air Always listen to your body and modify as needed.
4. Keep your quick-relief medicine close at hand. If you do start to have symptoms when the air quality is poor, your quick-relief inhaler can help you get asthma control back before it spirals downward. Not all inhalers have counters, so be sure you keep track of how many puffs you have left in your canister, so that you don’t get caught short!
5. o your part to reduce threats to air quality. Help your local electric utilities reduce ozone air pollution by conserving energy at home and in the office. Consider setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Participate in your local utility’s load-sharing and energy conservation programs.
Drive less and walk or bike more, air quality permitting. Or, try to carpool, use public transportation or an electric vehicle. If you do use gas-powered vehicles or machinery, keep them properly tuned up and maintained. During summer, fill your gas tank in the evening and be careful not to spill gas. Finally, use household and garden chemicals wisely. Use low VOC paints and solvents. And be sure to read labels for proper use and disposal.
You’ll find more information about air quality and how you can deal with it at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website: http://airnow.gov/
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.