Dangerous pollutants that are released into the air can enter your lungs and irritate your airways. If you already suffer from asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), these pollutants can be especially harmful to your health.
There are two main forms of pollution that affect summer air quality. The release of airborne particles like dust and smoke is one common form of pollution. Ozone—often referred to as smog—is another harmful pollutant that contributes to poor air quality. Ozone develops when gas, released from things like cars and factories, reacts to the sunlight. Both airborne particles and ozone can trigger asthma, causing your airways to narrow and making it difficult to breathe.
Studies show that air pollution can worsen asthma and COPD symptoms, especially during the summer when the air is more stagnant. Adults 65 and older are especially susceptible to asthma symptoms caused by pollution. A study from the National Institute of Health found that older adults are at a significantly higher risk of asthma-related hospitalizations when pollution levels are high.
Poor air quality is a serious health concern for people living in Silicon Valley. The American Lung Association rated Santa Clara County with an F for both ozone and short-term particle pollution. While air pollution may be high, there are still steps you can take to protect your health:
- Track your symptoms. Pay attention to any asthma symptoms you experience and note if they increase on high-pollution days. This may mean you need to limit your outdoor time.
- Pay attention to air quality. Check your local newspaper for current pollution levels, and limit your time outdoors when it is high. Ozone levels are typically highest in the afternoon and during rush-hour traffic.
- Limit high-intensity, outdoor exercise. If you exercise outside, try to reduce your intensity on high-pollution days. This will help reduce the amount of pollution you inhale. Consider exercising indoors when air quality is poor.
Although asthma can’t be cured, you can control your symptoms through thoughtful lifestyle changes. If you notice your symptoms worsening when the air is more polluted, talk to your doctor about additional ways to protect your health. Your doctor can help track your symptoms and offer additional treatment options as needed.
This article first appeared in the July 2017 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.