With the summer heat often comes poorer air quality: humidity and heat essentially “trap” air pollutants into the air we breathe, not allowing them to rise up above the usually clear air entering our lungs. You may have heard of the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s rays high above the earth, but ozone can also travel downwards into the air closer to the ground and trap “particulate matter” such as allergens and pollutants (smoke and fumes)—this can happen with high levels of humidity.
If you live in a large urban centre, you may experience “Spare the Air” days where air quality is exceptionally poor, sometimes to the extent where citizens are asked not to drive if at all possible. People with certain medical conditions are also asked to avoid being outdoors when air quality is exceptionally poor, or avoid exercising outdoors. However, the Environmental Protection Agency notes that lung inflammation can develop after 6-7 hours of exposure to ozone in healthy people, too . Of course, this inflammation will develop more quickly in people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, COPD or cystic fibrosis, and people with these conditions may be the most adversely impacted by poor air quality. People with heart disease can have cardiovascular symptoms triggered by air pollution’s effect on their condition, including cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke, and heart attack or heart failure . If you have any chronic medical conditions, you should ask your doctor if you are at higher risk for health problems because of air pollution, and ask them how you can minimize your risk. In the US, air quality reports can be found at AirNow by entering your zip code; in Canada, Air Quality Health Index information can be found via Environment Canada, and provides additional information for high-risk populations.
If you do have to be outdoors during poor air quality days and have a condition that may be exacerbated by poor air quality, remember the importance of medical jewelry for lung and heart disease—emergency care providers may be aware of the potential impacts of air quality alerts on health conditions, and a medical bracelet or medical ID necklace with your medical information may help them provide you better care faster.