The Real Dirt Behind Getting Fresh Air: How Air Pollution Affects Asthma, Lungs, and Heart

fresh air

How often do you think about the air you breathe? At the time this article was written, the air quality index (AQI) for Tyler – Longview – Marshall scored a 52, which the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality branch rates as “moderate”. The score came with a health message for residents in the area: “Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.” Knowing the status of air pollution in your local region is important, especially if you or any family member suffers from respiratory health conditions like asthma, COPD, emphysema, or any lung or heart conditions that can be exacerbated by contaminants in the air.

How Can Air Pollution Affect Asthma?

One symptom of asthma is sensitive airways, so when contaminants such as chemicals from gas pumps, plants, and vehicle emissions fill the air, asthmatics can easily experience a shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. And here in East Texas, where manufacturing plants, chemical plants, and commercial trucks prevail, it’s important to check your local outdoor air quality daily. This is especially true in the summertime when we are exposed to more ultraviolet rays, longer days, and stagnant air. Airborne particles and photochemical oxidants sit and marinate while you breathe them in.

One study showed a 40 percent increase in acute asthma episodes for children on high pollution summer days compared to days with average pollution levels. Another found that older adults were more likely to visit the emergency room for breathing problems when summer air pollution was high.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Lungs?

Both long-term and short-term exposure to ground-level ozone and airborne particles, also called smog, can cause different respiratory problems such as reduced lung function. When you breathe these small particles in, they penetrate deeply into the sensitive parts of the lungs and can aggravate respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis. One six-year study revealed a 10 percent decrease in lung capacity amongst eight and nine-year-olds living in areas with high levels of fumes from diesel cars. It’s important to know what type of conditions you typically face in your region, so you can decide whether or not to keep the kids indoors.

How Does Air Pollution Worsen Cardiovascular Diseases?

Air pollution can also worsen preexisting cardiovascular problems. Toxins from smog enter the bloodstream, and reduce the ability for the heart to pump blood.  Exposure to air pollution can trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms for people already at risk. According to NCBI, one study showed that outdoor air pollution is a significant environmental trigger for acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and leads to increased symptoms, emergency department visits, hospital admissions and even mortality.

Staying inside during days with bad air pollution can improve your breathing and quality of life. If you are having trouble breathing or an asthma attack, report to an emergency room immediately.