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Air Pollution & Asthma

Air pollution can cause breathing problems for anyone. But people with asthma have a tougher time dealing with it.

Air pollution can lead to an asthma flare-up. This makes it more likely for people with asthma to need to go to the hospital.

What Makes the Air Dirty?

You've probably heard about the ozone layer and how we need to protect it. The ozone layer is up high in the atmosphere and protects us from the sun's rays. But there's a different layer of ozone closer to the ground called ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone forms when chemicals from cars, power plants, and factories mix with sunlight. This "ozone pollution" is a main part of smog — the brownish-yellow haze often seen hanging over cities on the horizon. It can irritate the lungs and cause breathing problems.

Particle pollution also makes the air dirty. Particle pollution is created when tiny bits of dust, dirt, smoke, soot, and other stuff hang in the air (for example, from wildfires). The smaller the particles, the deeper they can get into the lungs and cause breathing problems.

Other pollutants include gases, like carbon monoxide, which can harm the lungs. Gases in the air come from the burning of fuels like coal or oil.

What Can I Do About it?

If air pollution makes your asthma worse, ask your mom or dad to look up the weather report for you. On days when the air pollution level is high, run the air conditioning. If you plan to be outside, do it early in the day. The rest of the time, stay inside. And avoid places where there's a lot of traffic.

If you play a sport that has outside practices during hot weather, talk to the coach about what you can do to stay out of dirty air. This may mean you need to work out in an air-conditioned gym or miss some practices. If you do end up working out, inside or out, keep the medicine you use for fast relief of symptoms (called quick-relief, rescue, or fast-acting medicine) with you.

Reviewed by: Abigail Strang, MD, Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 2, 2024

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