What Do You Do When Air Quality Is Unhealthy?
Air pollution is a serious issue which affects the health of millions of people in modern cities. When air quality is unhealthy, you may experience problems such as eye irritation, asthma, and many other respiratory disorders. You can limit your exposure to harmful air contaminants and improve your health by making a few simple changes. It won’t be easy, but there are some things you can do to help.
You’re In Control of The Air in Your Home
Air pollution is something that you can’t see. You don’t notice it and you don’t know it’s there. But outdoors, when air quality is unhealthy, we feel it.
We breathe it in, fill our lungs with pollution and hope we can get through the day with no problems. The same is true of indoor air quality; you don’t see it or know how to measure it and so it’s difficult to ensure that your air is fit to breathe.
A recent report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that indoor air pollution is the fourth largest killer in the world, after high blood pressure, smoking and poor nutrition.
Indoor air pollution can come from many sources: tobacco smoke, dust mites, mould and mildew, pet dander and cat litter, fireplaces and wood stoves, cooking fumes and gas stoves and heaters.
The best way to improve your indoor air quality is to start by reducing what we call “indoor sources” of pollutants. That’s those things that you can control in your home, such as smoking or cooking on a gas stovetop or using an electric space heater.
Tobacco smoke is one of the biggest causes of indoor air pollution. Second-hand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals — including over 70 known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).
The most dangerous ones are carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine. People who live with smokers are exposed to higher levels of these harmful chemicals than those who live with non-smokers.
Stay Indoors as Much as Possible
When you hear the word ‘health’, your brain probably jumps to what you put in your body. However, when air quality is unhealthy, staying indoors is just as important as eating healthy food.
Air quality alerts are warnings from your local environmental protection agency. They tell you that air pollution levels in your area have reached unhealthy levels, and they advise you to take precautions.
While an air quality alert might not seem like a big deal, this designation from your local environmental protection agency is an official warning. You should be prepared for the worst, no matter where you live.
Alerts are issued when the EPA or other regulatory agency determines that dangerous levels of pollutants exist in the atmosphere.
These pollutants can cause serious health problems in people who breathe them in over time. This includes asthma sufferers or those with heart conditions — but even healthy adults should be careful when pollution levels are high.
The EPA issues air quality alerts because it wants people to take precautions during periods when air pollution levels are high enough to pose a serious risk to human health.
When pollution levels spike, it’s important for everyone, including children and adults with existing medical conditions to limit exposure as much as possible by staying indoors or avoiding outdoor activities altogether until conditions improve again.
Limit Your Exercise Outdoors When You Can
I like to head to the trails as much as possible. But I have to be careful when doing so in the winter because air quality can be an issue.
On those days when air quality is unhealthy, my experience has been that it makes more sense to take advantage of indoor stationary equipment (e.g., treadmill and bike) rather than using the outdoors for my workout.
I know this isn’t always possible depending on your work circumstances. But, if possible, I would encourage you to limit your exercise outdoors on days when the air is unhealthy, particularly for sensitive groups.
The air quality in your area can be predicted by several factors, including weather patterns and topography.
Air quality is affected by the weather; during windy days, pollution gets blown away from its source and dispersed into the air. On calm days, pollution accumulates near the ground.
The topography of an area can also affect how polluted the air is. Areas with hills and mountains tend to have cleaner air because winds can blow away pollutants that get trapped in valleys or near mountaintops.
When you’re exercising outside on a day when the air is unhealthy, it can be hard to tell exactly what you’re breathing in. But if you’re feeling shortness of breath or coughing while exercising, it’s probably best to stop what you’re doing and go inside as soon as possible.
Stay Away from Sources of Pollution, Like Busy Streets
Air quality can vary greatly at street level, depending on whether there is air pollution or which pollutants are present. Air quality can also be different on one side of the street than on the other side.
It’s important to understand what factors influence your health, so you can take steps to protect yourself and your family, especially if you have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart failure.
When air quality is unhealthy, it’s important to understand what factors influence your health and how you can protect yourself.
A variety of health problems can be caused by air pollution, including:
- Asthma attacks. If you have asthma, you may experience more frequent and severe attacks. Children with asthma are especially likely to have an attack when they are breathing polluted air.
- COPD symptoms. People who already have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing when exposed to polluted air.
- Pneumonia and bronchitis. People with chronic lung diseases like COPD are at higher risk for getting pneumonia or bronchitis in response to inhaling high levels of air pollution for several days or longer.
The air quality in your community depends on local, regional, and even international sources. The air you breathe can be affected by weather conditions, the amount of pollution generated by cars and trucks, and even forest fires in other states and countries.
You Should Not Allow People to Smoke Inside Your Home or Car
Smoking, both inside and outside of an individual’s home, is an issue all over the world. By smoking inside your house or car, you are not only exposing yourself to harmful chemicals that are produced from cigarette smoke, but also others such as family members, friends, and anyone else who happens to be nearby when you’re smoking.
While smoking may create a feeling of relaxation for many people it can also have catastrophic health consequences for others around them.
The negative effects of smoking are well known, but there are also several positive benefits to quitting.
When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco enter your bloodstream through the lungs and pass into your brain. Here, they can cause addiction by stimulating the release of dopamine, which is a pleasure-inducing chemical.
When someone who has smoked for years quits, they may experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those from other drugs, such as alcohol or heroin. These include cravings for nicotine, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.
The negative health effects of smoking are well documented and include an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Smoking also contributes to lung cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. The harmful effects on pregnancy can even result in stillbirths, premature births, and low birth weight babies.
This isn’t just bad news for smokers themselves either — second-hand smoke can affect others around them too, including children whose lungs are still developing.
Clean Or Replace Your Furnace Filters Regularly
Do you ever wonder what kind of things we can breathe simply by staying at home and not venturing outside? I know I do — especially when air quality is unhealthy and being discussed on the news.
And it’s during these discussions that I hear them talk about how important it is to change your furnace filters regularly. It’s a staggering statistic that the average household doesn’t replace their furnace filters more often than every 3 months.
What’s worse is the fact that many households don’t change their filters even annually.
When you’re not feeling well, your first instinct is often to stay home. But when air quality is unhealthy, that might not be the wisest move.
Here are some tips for improving the health of your furnace:
- Change filters regularly. A dirty filter blocks airflow, which contributes to poor circulation and increased energy consumption. Check your filter monthly and replace it as needed with a high-efficiency filter.
- Clean or replace furnace components annually. Dust and debris can build up on fan blades, motors and other parts inside furnaces over time, reducing their efficiency and shortening their lifespan.
Cleaning or replacing these components will extend their life span while improving efficiency and indoor air quality by allowing more air to pass through them.
Don’t Burn Garden Waste Such as Leaves and Grass
Did you know that burning garden waste can make the air quality worse? When air quality is unhealthy, pollution levels in outdoor conditions may make it ‘very unhealthy’ for groups such as young children, older people, and those with underlying health conditions. Burning garden waste is the number one cause of air pollution from domestic fires.
Burning garden waste is not a good idea as it still releases pollutants into the air and could worsen the already poor air quality. It can also cause problems with your neighbours and cause damage to your property.
The smoke released from burning garden waste contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, which are all harmful chemicals that can affect your health if inhaled over long periods.
Carbon monoxide reduces how much oxygen you breathe, and nitrogen dioxide makes it harder for your body to get rid of other harmful chemicals such as ozone and sulphur dioxide.
Particulate matter can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs causing symptoms like wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks if inhaled regularly over time.
Particle pollution, or particulates for short, are tiny pieces of solid or liquid matter in the air. Some particles come from natural sources like dust storms and forest fires. However, other particles come from human activities like driving a vehicle or burning fuel for heat and power.
Indoor Plants Can Also Help Improve Indoor Air Quality
I love plants and I think everyone should have at least some kind of greenery in their homes. But I especially love them when they improve the quality of the air I breathe.
Plants are natural air purifiers, which means they can reduce or eliminate airborne contaminants like dust, bacteria, mould and pet dander.
They do this by absorbing carbon dioxide, which is what we exhale when we breathe (and plants use it for photosynthesis) and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.
But not all plants are created equal when it comes to removing pollutants from your home environment. Some are better at filtering out specific types of pollution than others, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for when you’re shopping for greenery that will work best for your needs.
- Aloe vera is great for purifying indoor air because it absorbs benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. All common chemicals found in household cleaners and paints — as well as hydrogen sulphide (which is produced by sulphur-reducing bacteria).
It also releases oxygen during photosynthesis, so it can help keep your home feeling fresh while also cleaning it up!
- English ivy is another easy-to-care-for plant that removes toxins from the air, including formaldehyde and xylene. Just be sure not to overwater this plant because it can cause root rot if kept too wet for too long.
You can limit your exposure to poor air quality and improve your health by making a few simple changes.
Air pollution can come from a variety of sources, including power plants, factories, and vehicles. When the weather is hot and dry, air pollutants can build up in the atmosphere and remain there for days.
Even short-term exposure to high levels of certain pollutants can be harmful.
You can limit your exposure when air quality is unhealthy by:
- Stopping or delaying exercising outdoors if there’s poor air quality in your area, especially if you are sensitive to air pollution.
- Avoiding areas with high traffic congestion or wood smoke from campfires or fireplaces.
- Keeping windows closed when dust storms are forecast.
Avoid going outside when it’s dusty or windy. Dust and dirt in the air can make breathing difficult for people with asthma. Windy days also cause more smog and pollution because they keep pollution closer to the ground.
When air quality is unhealthy, change the things you can control. Limit the time you spend outdoors and take some common-sense precautions if you go out.
A little planning can go a long way in keeping your health in check during the late summer months when more of us spend more time outside to enjoy the warm weather.
Just take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the AQI forecast, and you’ll be ready to breathe easy whenever you step outside.
And that’s how you prevent air pollution from ruining your outdoor fun.