Dr. Randy Martin: It is summertime and as the temperature increases, so does air pollution. Air pollution can lead to many health problems and can trigger asthma attacks. I met with emergency medicine physician Dr. Colin Dircks to find out more about air pollution and its effects on asthma.
“Smog is air pollution. It is comprised of two things: particulate matter, which are small particles suspended in the air that can be breathed in, and ozone, a clear, odorless gas formed by the sun’s action on oxygen in the air,” says Colin Dircks, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Piedmont Hospital. “When we inhale the ozone gas and particulate matter, smog acts as a lung irritant.”
Symptoms from air pollution can include muscle constriction around the airways, increased mucus production and inflammation.
With higher ozone levels during the summer months, Dr. Dircks says the emergency department sees more patients suffering from asthma attacks. “Individuals who have asthma or some active airway disease are prone to be affected by air pollution, particularly during the summer months and in the late afternoon and early evening.”
To avoid the toxic effects of air pollution, Dr. Dircks recommends “to follow your location’s air quality index. You want to avoid being outdoors when the air quality is very poor, particularly exercising outdoors. When we exercise, we increase the amount of air we breathe, so if the air quality is poor, you are getting that much more exposure to those lung irritants.”
What are signs that you or your child might have asthma? Asthma symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing and a chronic cough. “If you see these symptoms, asthma needs to be a consideration to be discussed with your doctor. And if there is any difficulty in breathing, it is time to go to the emergency department to get checked out.”
Dr. Randy Martin: Remember, if you experience wheezing, chronic coughing or difficulty breathing, it is time to see a doctor. Regardless of whether you have asthma or not, avoid spending time outdoors – especially exercising outdoors, when the air quality is poor. Find ways to exercise indoors. Doing so can help prevent an asthma attack and will help reduce your exposure to dangerous air pollution.