Does Air Pollution Cause Asthma Attacks?

Blog_04162014_inhaler-58360-mIn a word, yes. Air pollution can trigger symptoms in a variety of respiratory illnesses, not least of all asthma. As we move into the warmer summer months in the Twin Cities, some Minnesotans may experience the effects of poor air quality, especially if they reside in the metro area.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that asthma affects up to seven percent of Minnesotans and 20 million people across the country, including 6 million children. In 2005, asthma attacks prompted nearly 2 million trips to US emergency rooms.

Air Pollution and Lung Health
Asthma attacks are triggered by ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. These
greenhouse gases are commonly found in urban smog. Ozone is particularly prevalent in summer, when many people spend more time outdoors, breathing in dirty air.

Air pollution can cause a variety of respiratory problems for humans. Some people experience minor
effects, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, while others can develop more severe conditions.
Cardiovascular disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can all develop after exposure to air pollution. In extreme cases, people can develop lung cancer as a result of exposure to severe air pollution.

For millions of people with asthma, air pollution is a trigger for symptoms and asthma attacks. An asthma attack causes airways to swell and narrow, closing off the windpipe and making it difficult for a person to breathe. If untreated, these attacks can be life-threatening or fatal. Minor symptoms of asthma can include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Why Kids Are at Risk
Unfortunately, children are most at risk for developing respiratory conditions from air pollution. Pint-sized kids’ lungs have surface areas that are proportionately larger than those of adults. They also spend more time outdoors than a typical American adult, which exposes them to more air pollution. Children also tend to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the natural filtering noses provide.

How to Prevent Asthma Attacks
The best thing you can do to prevent asthma symptoms from escalating into an asthma attack is to
identify what triggers the symptoms and avoid those things. Use AirNow to check the air quality in your area and avoid going outside when air pollution levels are high.

Avoid places where people are smoking, spritzing fragrances, or are sick with colds. In the fall and winter, consider getting a flu shot. The flu makes asthma symptoms worse, which may lead to complications and hospitalization.

As the weather starts to get warmer in Minnesota, keep an eye on the skies and the air quality, especially if you suffer from asthma. Contact me to learn more about how air pollution can affect your health.

Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!
Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance