Air Quality Alert: Why Hot, Sunny Days Can Be Bad for Your Breathing
May 01, 2018
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
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!
Benjamin Kopp, MD is an assistant professor in the Section of Pediatric Pulmonology and a principal investigator in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
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