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Published on April 28, 2017

Can the air outside trigger serious health issues?

Just like the weather, the air quality outside is forecast each day to help you know how much pollution is in the air. Knowing the air quality index is important for all of us, but it’s especially crucial if you or a loved one has a breathing or cardiac issue, or a compromised immune system.

Poor air quality can increase the risk of:

• Asthma attacks

• Cardiovascular problems

• Chronic bronchitis

• Decreased lung function

• Heart attacks

• Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat

• Respiratory problems, including wheezing, coughing and painful breathing

What is the Air Quality Index?

Every day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issue an air quality forecast. The forecast measures the ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants in the air where you live.

The NOAA estimates that 60,000 premature deaths in our country each year are related to poor air quality.

The forecast considers:

• Ground-level ozone, which is comprised of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) combined with heat and sunlight. Vehicles, chemical solvents, industrial emissions and gasoline vapors can increase ground-level ozone buildup in the atmosphere.

• Particulate matter, or airborne particles, include smoke, dust, dirt and soot from vehicles, construction sites, factories and wood burning.

Who should be concerned?

The following people can be especially susceptible to problems on poor air quality days:

• Children

• Older adults

• People with compromised immune systems

• People with heart or breathing issues

What should you do on poor air quality days?

Follow these precautions on poor air quality days to protect your health and the health of those in your community:

• Avoid outdoor activities, like team sports, golfing, gardening, yardwork and exercise.

• Stay indoors as much as possible, especially if you are in an at-risk population (see above).

• Limit the amount of time you spend outside if you must leave your home or workplace.

• Refrain from burning wood or other debris.

• Reduce your use of your vehicle, gas-powered lawn mower or anything else that increases pollution.

Check the Air Quality Index next time you head outdoors. If you suspect you or a loved one has a breathing or heart problem, seek medical attention immediately.

Sources: NOAA and EPA