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How to Deal With a Bad Air Day - Signature Medicine

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How to Deal With a Bad Air Day
Air quality reports can help you
manage exposure to pollution
David Winter, MD, MSc, MACP
Dr. David Winter is board certified in
internal medicine and is the current
Chief Clinical Officer and Chairman of
the Board of Health Texas Provider
Network (HTPN).
Ozone develops in the air from gases that come
from power plants, motor vehicles, smokestacks and
many other sources. Ozone gases react with
sunlight to form ozone smog.
Pollen counts range from 0 to 12, with higher counts
indicating lower air quality. Pollen count ranges are
color coded so that you can easily see whether a
pollen count is low (green) or high (red).
The Air Quality Index (AQI) ranges from 0 to 500
and also is color coded:
0 to 50 is good air (green).
If you see smog, you can probably assume the air
quality is bad, but what you might not see in the air
can be just as dangerous to your health.
51 to 100 is acceptable, but some people
may have breathing problems (yellow).
More than four out of 10 people live where the air is
considered too dangerous to breathe. Stronger
pollution standards in the U.S. have helped to
decrease pollution particles in the air over the past
101 to 150 is considered unhealthy for
sensitive people such as the young, old and
those with heart and lung conditions
However, air quality can improve or get worse on a
daily basis, depending on pollen counts and air
pollution at that time. Getting in the habit of
checking the air quality in your area will allow you to
take preventive measures to protect yourself against
the health effects of bad air.
Decoding an air quality report
An air quality report generally gives values for
particles and ozone. It may also give a pollen count.
Particles in the air are caused by polluting emissions
from cars, wood burning and manufacturing.
Pollen is made of the very tiny particles from plants
that float through the air to fertilize other plants.
151 to 200 is unhealthy air and everyone
may have some health effects from
breathing it, but people in sensitive groups
have a greater chance of experiencing
more serious effects (red).
201 to 300 is air that is unhealthy for
anyone to breathe (purple).
301 to 500 is hazardous air that is very
unhealthy for anyone to breathe (maroon).
What’s so bad about bad air?
Ozone attacks lung tissue by chemically reacting
with it. Breathing air with increased ozone puts
people at risk for premature death,
aggravated asthma, difficulty breathing, heart
problems and lower birth weight babies.
May 9, 2014
Breathing air that contains pollution particles can
cause asthma, damage the lungs and increase the
risk of dying one to three years early. It has also
been associated with an increased risk of dying from
lung cancer.
Pollen in the air can cause allergic reactions that
range from mild itching and redness of eyes and
nose to wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Certain people are at greater risk
Some people are at greater risk of experiencing the
ill effects of bad air quality. These groups include:
People with lung problems like asthma or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Infants and younger people whose lungs
are still developing
People over 65 whose immune systems are
less efficient
People who are active outdoors, either for
recreation or through their job
People with chronic diseases like heart
disease and diabetes
Where can you get information on air
There are a number of good resources available to
check the air quality and pollen levels in your area.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) runs a
website called AirNow that provides today’s and
tomorrow’s Air Quality Index.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma &
Immunology's (AAAAI) National Allergy Bureau has
a daily mold and pollen report on their website.
The American Lung Association rates air quality for
the day and for the year by zip code or state on a
site called State of the Air.
The National Weather Service operates a site called
Pollen, where you’ll find a five-day pollen allergy
forecast for your zip code and a list of the most
predominant types of pollen for those days.
Additionally, most local television stations have an
air quality or pollen level report on their websites.
Protecting your health against bad air
The EPA advises that the best way to protect
yourself against bad air is to make some changes
that will reduce the amount of polluted air you
breathe on days when the air quality is bad.
They stated that the chances of bad outdoor air
quality affecting someone increases with the length
of time spent outdoors and with more strenuous
activities. The EPA recommends replacing activities
requiring more exertion with those needing less,
such as walking instead of jogging. Planning outdoor
activities in the morning and evening when the
ozone is likely to be lower also can help limit
AAAAI suggests limiting outdoor activities when
pollen levels are high. They also recommend
keeping home and car windows closed and
showering after coming indoors to remove pollen.
The outdoors will be much more enjoyable if you
know what the air quality will be and are prepared
to deal with it.
According to Dr. David Winter, the Chief Clinical
Officer, President and Chairman of the Board of
HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of
Baylor Health Care System, "Not everyone has
problems with pollen or mold, in fact only about 1520 percent of adults, but anyone can suffer from
ozone or smog if there is enough of the bad stuff in
the air we breathe.
"When bad air affects you, staying indoors and
keeping car air conditioners on recirculate can
minimize exposure. Opening windows to bring in
'fresh air' is not always a good idea. Fresh air can
bring in 'fresh smog' and 'fresh pollen,'" Dr. Winter
"For those who are sensitive to bad air, paying
attention to air quality reports and modifying your
exposure accordingly makes good sense," he said.
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