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Treating Asthma Symptoms Requires Being Kinder to the Environment

Are you breathing clean air? Chances are you’re not — no matter where you live.

Health effects of climate change and air pollution are a serious worldwide problem. A recent report by the World Health Organization says air pollution kills 7 million people every year; 93 percent of children under 15 are risking health and developmental issues because of the polluted air they breathe.

Air pollutants in the lungs can trigger or worsen symptoms for asthma sufferers. According to a recent study, air pollution may cause between 9 million and 33 million asthma-related emergency room visits worldwide per year.

What’s causing poor air quality? One primary pollutant is fine particulate matter: a mix of solid and liquid droplets that get into the air via emissions from factories, power plants and vehicles. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large enough to be visible. Others are microscopic. When inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health issues.

How climate change will make your asthma worse

Emissions also send up into the air large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which are trapped in the atmosphere. As a result, the planet cannot cool off, altering our weather patterns.

This warmer weather allows trees and plants to bloom sooner and produce pollen and mold spores earlier in the spring and fall, lengthening the allergy seasons. Both pollen and mold spores are common asthma triggers. 

When power plant, factory and vehicle emissions mix with heat and sunlight, it forms smog (also called ground-level ozone), another powerful asthma irritant. Heat waves and smoke from wildfires — which can spread hundreds of miles — can also trigger asthma flares.

Getting your asthma under control

What can you do? Talk with your doctor if you think poor air quality is impacting your symptoms and ask whether you need to adjust your treatment plan or medication schedule. Find out if allergen immunotherapy for pollen and mold is right for you.

Some lifestyle changes that can help include:

  1. Reducing pollution from vehicles: Don’t idle your car when parked. Carpool when possible, or better yet, take public transit or ride a bike to work, if you can.
  2. Being smart about saving energy: Set your thermostat a bit cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer. Turn off lights and unplug TVs and computers when not in use. And use energy-efficient light bulbs.
  3. Installing solar panels: Although expensive, solar panels on your roof may be worth it in the long run, depending on your family’s finances. They’ll also cut down on the amount of energy you have to purchase. Tax credits could also be available, making an energy-saving decision a sound financial decision, too.
  4. Monitoring local air quality reports daily: Stay inside if possible when pollen counts are high or air quality is poor. Avoid or limit strenuous outdoor activity to early morning hours when pollen and ozone levels tend to be lower.

Gary Fitzgerald, Allergy and Asthma Network, [email protected]

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