Healthy Living

Air Quality’s Impact on Your Health

Jun 13 2023

When you check the weather each morning, you are probably checking to look up the temperature outside to help you decide what to wear that day. However, especially in light of recent headlines, take time to also check the air quality as well as learn about air quality’s impact on your health.

What is air quality?

When someone is referring to air quality, they are talking about a rating system that’s function is to measure the level of irritants in the air. This index of levels goes from 0 all the way up to 300. And it is around the 150 index that most people start to feel side effects from the air around them.

Irritants that factor into air quality ratings include:

  • Air pollution
  • Elevated ozone levels
  • Airborne particulates

Additionally, natural disasters, like wildfires, can temporarily impact air quality levels as well. Smoke enters the atmosphere and releases carbon monoxide among other chemicals into the air.

Another concern is small particulate matter as since they are tiny, they are easily inhaled. The concern comes more when there are high levels of these particles because from there, they can enter the bloodstream after being inhaled deep into the lungs.

What are the short-term symptoms related to air quality?

It is important to note that when air quality index levels rise, people in the surrounding area may experience symptoms, and these symptoms will depend on what the main air pollutant is.

So, for example, with wildfire smoke, these symptoms may present themselves as those of allergies: coughing, shortness of breath, headaches as well as irritated eyes, throat, lungs and nose. All of these stem from airborne irritants causing inflammation in our airways.

And if you have a chronic health condition, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), be especially careful. If air quality index levels are high, your symptoms for those conditions can worsen. 

What are the long-term symptoms related to air quality?

Your chances of developing long-term health problems increases the longer you are exposed to bad air. In fact, there are studies that have found people living in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to develop asthma. They are also more likely to suffer from a stroke, heart disease, dementia and lung cancer, among other diseases.

To put it simply, the damage done to the lungs from that of cigarette smoke is similar to the damage from long-term air pollution exposure.

Who’s at risk when it comes to poor air quality?

Everyone is at risk! When the air quality index is in the unhealthy range or higher, everyone needs to consider their exposure and take precautions.

That being said, there are people who are more at risk than others when it comes to adverse reactions and developing symptoms. They include pregnant women, older adults, children and those with chronic respiratory conditions.

For pregnant woman in particular, they are at risk because they have a diminished lung capacity when carrying a child. Studies show that long-term exposure to unhealthy air can cause miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth and gestational diabetes.

As for children younger than the age of 5, they breathe faster, which puts their smaller airways more at risk for inflammation.

How can I take steps to avoid poor air quality?

Since you can’t change the quality of the air around you, you need to consider changing your daily behaviors.

Try the following tips:

  • Spend time inside as much as you can during times of high air quality index levels. This means exercising indoors as well.
  • In your house, make sure your air conditioner or HVAC system has an updated air filter. You may also want to invest in an air purifier. Also, don’t leave windows or doors open in your home either.
  • When you do have to venture outdoors, wearing a face mask, such as an N95, can help keep you safe.

When to reach out to your health care provider

As stated above, there are a few short-term symptoms you may experience during times of high air quality index levels. However, if these symptoms worsen or turn into a respiratory infection, contact your primary care provider. And as always, if you begin to have trouble breathing or experience dizziness or chest pain, head to your nearest emergency room.  

Learn about the primary care services we provide at Mercy Health.

Related Posts

Please review our Terms of Use before commenting.