By Kevin Martin, MD
Division of Pulmonology
Many areas of our country, including New England, have suffered poor air quality this summer. Chances are, you’ve seen Air Quality Alerts mentioned in the news, and have probably experienced the hazy, poor quality air yourself.
Whether it is smoke from wildfires, pollutants, or ground-level ozone impacting the air we breathe, poor air quality can adversely affect our health. For this reason, there are more than 4,000 monitoring stations across the United States that measure pollutants in the air. This data is used to create an Air Quality Index (AQI). The Environmental Protection Agency categorizes the AQI into six levels that reflect current air quality where you live. The lower the number, the better the air quality is for your health. A higher number reflects greater risk to your health.
Air quality can change rapidly from one day to the next, which is why we all should be aware of the quality of the air we breathe each day. People who have breathing-related conditions such as asthma, allergies, COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are particularly affected by poor air quality. Even those without any underlying conditions can be affected by poor quality air, which can cause inflamed airways that can lead to shortness of breath and coughing. Poor air quality has also been linked to many serious health problems, including an increased risk for heart attacks, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and strokes as well as a general feeling of overall illness. Studies have even linked exposure to air pollution with an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
How to protect yourself when air quality is bad
It’s important to be aware if there is an air quality alert in your area and to take precautions. You can receive air quality alerts through local weather reports and the website airnow.gov. You can also use the AirNow mobile app on your phone to learn the air quality in your area. Following the guidelines below during poor air quality alerts will help minimize your exposure and protect your health:
Poor air quality alert guidelines:
Stay indoors as much as possible. While indoors, keep your windows closed and try not to introduce any outside air into your home. Avoid any outdoor exercise and work out at home or at the gym instead.
Use air conditioning. Turn on the air conditioning in your home and also use it when inside your car. Air conditioning helps filter the air you breathe. While driving, make sure your heating/ventilation system is recirculating the air, not drawing it in from the outside.
Use a HEPA filter in your home. A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter can trap very small particles in the air as well as allergens to improve your indoor air quality. This is the only type of air filter or purifier you should use in your home.
Although none of us can totally control the air that we breathe, taking precautions when air quality is poor is the best way to avoid ill effects and protect our health.
About Kevin Martin, MD
When he was in medical school, Dr. Kevin Martin thought he would become a pediatrician. “I love children, and I thought my career would be caring for them,” he explains. “Then, I discovered that, for me, getting to know adults on a personal level and helping them with their problems has been very rewarding. I particularly like caring for adults with complicated problems involving multiple parts of their bodies. So I decided to...View profile View posts by this doctor