700 Children's Blog

Air Quality Alert: Why Hot, Sunny Days Can Be Bad for Your Breathing

May 01, 2018
image of a city covered in smog

The polar vortex has finally passed and we’ve entered spring! It’s time for kids to play freely outside right? Well, for children with asthma or other breathing problems, hot, sunny days can often worsen breathing problems due to high ozone levels.

Ozone is formed in the Earth’s atmosphere through the action of ultraviolet (UV) light, and is normally concentrated about 6 to 31 miles above the earth’s surface in a layer called the stratosphere. However, we are exposed to ground level ozone by the action of sunlight on particles produced by common machines such as cars and factories.

Normal ground-ozone levels don’t usually affect us, but ozone production can rise to dangerous levels during heat waves, because the plants around us are unable to absorb as much ozone. This effect is highest in urban areas with high-baseline air pollution and is a part of “smog.” Ozone can also travel via wind and reach rural areas, so everyone should be aware of ozone levels no matter where you live.

Once inhaled, ozone can react with the lining of our lungs to form toxic byproducts. What’s the end result of all this science on our lungs?

  • Increased asthma attacks
  • Difficulty with deep breathing
  • Difficulty with play
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Missing school and work

Kids spent a lot of time playing outside during hot summer days, putting them at high risk of the damaging effects of ozone. Additionally, high ozone levels have been linked to heart disease and premature births.

How can we monitor our air quality during the summer? Locally, we can find help through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ohio EPA's AIROHIO helps keep us informed of poor air-quality days where ozone levels may be high. Nationally, you can find updates at the EPA’s AIRNow Web site. However, many poor air-quality days are not preceded by announced air-quality alerts, as it can be difficult to predict when these days will occur based on shifting weather patterns, so you have to be proactive.

What do we do on poor air-quality days?

  • Avoid strenuous activity in the afternoon. Schedule your sports for the morning.
  • Take frequent breaks from the sun.
  • Provide alternative activities for kids with asthma.
  • Pay attention to your asthma action plan! If you don’t have an asthma action plan, talk to your provider about one.
  • Watch for air-quality indexes (AQI) above 100, this alerts you to dangerous levels.

With a few precautions, we can help all our children enjoy an active and safe summer!

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Benjamin Kopp, MD
Section of Pediatric Pulmonology, Assistant Professor; Center for Microbial Pathogenesis, Principal Investigator

Dr. Benjamin Kopp is an Assistant Professor in the Section of Pediatric Pulmonology and a Principle Investigator in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.