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Living with asthma can already present challenges, but when faced with poor air quality, the impact on respiratory health can be even more severe. Air quality plays a vital role in the management of asthma. People with asthma have sensitive airways that react to various triggers, including pollutants and allergens present in the air. When exposed to poor air quality, these triggers can cause inflammation, tightening of airways, and increased mucus production, leading to asthma symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. By understanding this connection, you can take proactive steps to protect your respiratory health and manage asthma more effectively.
Air pollution refers to the presence of harmful substances in the air, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants can originate from various sources, such as vehicle emissions, industrial activities, and even natural events like wildfires. When individuals with asthma are exposed to air pollution, their already sensitive airways become more prone to inflammation and irritation, leading to worsened asthma symptoms.
Air pollutants can trigger an inflammatory response in the airways, causing them to become swollen and narrow. This inflammation makes it harder to breathe, leading to worsened asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Individuals with asthma who are exposed to high levels of air pollution may experience more frequent and severe asthma attacks. Air pollutants can act as direct triggers for asthma symptoms and can also amplify the effects of other triggers, such as allergens or exercise.
Common air pollutants like wildfires produce vast amounts of smoke that can travel great distances, affecting air quality even in regions far from the fire. For example, during the recent Canadian wildfires that drifted down to the East Coast, encompassing major US cities, NYC was given the status of worst air quality in the world. NYC reached an AQI of 342, a level considered hazardous for all residents.
The smoke contains harmful particulate matter (PM), which consists of tiny particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. This PM is a mixture of gases, chemicals, and other pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate existing respiratory conditions. Prolonged exposure to air pollution can have a cumulative effect on lung health, leading to a decline in lung function over time. This decrease in lung function can make asthma symptoms more challenging to manage and increase the risk of respiratory complications.
NYC, June 2023. Photo Credit: Mac West
How do I protect myself?
Air pollution poses a significant threat to individuals with asthma, as it can exacerbate symptoms, reduce lung function, and increase the risk of respiratory complications. By understanding the impact of air pollution on asthma and actively monitoring air quality, you can take proactive steps to minimize exposure and protect your respiratory health. Stay informed, adapt your routines, and work closely with your healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive asthma management plan that addresses the challenges posed by air pollution.
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