Air Pollution and Asthma

by Nicole Saad on March 27, 2014


About 17.3% of the population, both children and adults, of the United States currently have asthma. This lung condition can kill up to 3,000 people each year. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation and constriction of the airways. It primarily begins in childhood and there is no cure. If there is no cure to this common disease, how can we prevent humans from contracting asthma at a young age?

Unhealthy air is a combination of rising temperatures, few winds, as well as pollution and airborne particles. Health consequences of unhealthy air can linger for months or even years. Ozone is a common pollutant closely studied in the summer. This pollutant is caused by a chemical reaction between oxygen-containing molecules and pollution from cars, factories, and power plants with the presence of sunlight in high temperatures or stagnant air. There are no ozone pollution problems in the winter. High levels of ozone decrease lung function and cause inflammation and swelling of the airways. Symptoms include coughing and throat irritation. If an individual with a pre-existing condition of asthma is exposed to high levels of ozone pollutants, exposure is extra dangerous. Particulates, a type of air pollutant, are fine particles as a result of burnt fuel and then released into the air. Unlike the ozone pollution, this pollution is hazardous year round. Children surrounding particulate air pollution, most likely near busy roads and highways, are more likely to develop asthma.

Researchers have found a gene that affects an individual’s response to air pollution. This certain gene protects against negative effects of ozone. Over 40% of the human population do not have a working copy of this gene and therefore are more susceptible to ozone damage. Children are especially more susceptible to asthma because of the low immune system and underdeveloped lungs and airways. Parents should be sure to limit a child’s time outside if the family lives in an unsafe air quality location.

Doctors and researchers must be able to indicate and test daily air quality in order to find ways to prevent asthma and other respiratory conditions from air pollution. The Air Quality Index (AQI) indicates how clean or polluted the air is in a particular area. The AQI can assess the amount of ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide in the air. Air quality provides a color-coded chart related to the health conditions of the air on the specific day and location. On “bad” air days, if the AQI reads unhealthy, then people with respiratory disease should avoid staying outside for long periods of time. If the air conditions are hazardous, even healthy people should stay inside and not choose to be exposed to the harmful pollutants. It is important for the public to have the information on air quality to make decisions about time spent outside.

Although there is not a remedy for cleaner air and less exposure to pollutants, we can take initiative and become educated about the air quality of where we live and know how to expose ourselves as little as possible to these pollutants. Physically decreasing the amount of air pollution in the environment may take long periods of time and effort to change. Soon society may be able to transition away from fossil fuels and use alternative fuels and renewable power, such as sunlight or wind. Reduction in power plants, cars, and trucks would also be beneficial to the environment and human health, but it is not practical at this time. As health conscious people, we should take the small steps of education and exposing ourselves to polluted air as little as possible to ensure the health of our families and ourselves. The population should pay attention to the air quality index updates in the local newspaper, television, or radio weather reports to know how the severity of the air quality on a particular day. Individuals are advised to avoid the air pollution hot spots. When walking or exercising outside, avoid major roads and highways to have the least possible exposure of air pollutants.




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