How to plan ahead for air pollution
Fact: Air pollution is all around us, whether we notice it or not. When we’re outside, air pollution can come from things like wildfire smoke, exhaust fumes, and dust particles. Some days we can see it (think smoggy skies), smell it (like campfire smoke), or just know it’s there by the way it makes us feel (suddenly itchy eyes or a burning feeling in the lungs).
And for people with asthma or COPD, research shows that air pollution can make symptoms worse and trigger a flare-up.1,2
So what can you do when the air quality suddenly changes?
- Check your local air quality index (AQI)3* every day. This is key if you plan to spend time outdoors. Some options include Airnow.gov, Breezometer, or within the Propeller Health mobile app to see the daily Weather Forecast or Asthma Outlook.
- Plan ahead for different AQI levels. When the AQI changes, so might your plans. For people with asthma or COPD (and other members of “sensitive groups”), health risks increase when the AQI reaches 100 or more. When this happens, you may want to limit outdoor activities or reschedule activities that can make you breathe harder to times of day when air quality may be better, like in the mornings. For more specific recommendations, look for updates from your local authorities or check with your doctor.
- Wear a mask, when necessary. Wildfire smoke, dust from construction sites and gravel roads can create particulate matter, a type of air pollution. When particulate matter is inhaled, it can contribute to breathing problems. A good mask, such as an N95, can help keep these tiny particles at bay, especially if you’re spending time outdoors.
- Improve indoor air quality. When the outdoor air quality is poor, it’s best to go indoors and close windows. If possible, use an air purifier to reduce indoor air pollution. And if you have air conditioning, turn on the fan to keep indoor air circulating and make sure your filters are up to date (we recommend changing them every 90 days).
- Work with your doctor to make an air quality plan. Whether it’s updating an asthma action plan or knowing how to adjust your meds for different levels (and sources) of air pollution, your care team is your best resource to help you prepare for poor air. And since getting ahead of symptoms before they start is important, be sure to take your routine medications as prescribed.
While we can’t control the air we breathe outside, we can take steps to plan for when air quality is poor — and always keep a non-expired, as-needed inhaler nearby (especially if you head outdoors).
1 Li, J., Sun, S., Tang, R., Qiu, H., Huang, Q., Mason, T. G., & Tian, L. (2015). Major air pollutants and risk of COPD exacerbations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 11, 3079-3091. https://doi.org/10.2147/COPD.S122282
2 Tiotiu, A. I., Novakova, P., Nedeva, D., Chong-Neto, H. J., Novakova, S., Steiropoulos, P., & Kowal, K. (2020). Impact of Air Pollution on Asthma Outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(17). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176212
3 AirNow. (2021). AQI Basics | AirNow.gov. http://www.airnow.gov. https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/
* Created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency