Breathe easy this summer: Ideas for dealing with summertime air quality issues

By Regence
August 01, 2022
Forest Fire Smoke_small

Remember to check air quality when planning activities this summer so you can protect yourself and those you love.

Communities both locally and nationally are dealing with the effects of seasonal wildfires, which have become more common in recent years. While we know to protect ourselves from the heat and the sun, we don’t always think about the air we breathe. Summertime air quality can turn bad in late summer due to an increase in air-borne particulates, such as ash, soot, etc., and ground-level ozone when the weather is hotter and drier. Lower air quality can create certain health risks, especially for vulnerable populations. When planning summer activities, add “check air quality” to your checklist.

Wildfire smoke and other particulates

A mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, known as airborne particulate matter, creates particulate pollution. It can come from fire smoke and soot as well as dust from unpaved roads and construction sites. Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself when particulate pollution is high in your area:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible with windows and doors closed.
  • Reduce intense physical activity.
  • Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution, such as smoking, using a wood-burning stove, or frying food. Do not vacuum anywhere in the house.
  • Use central air conditioner or heater to filter the air. (A home’s heater or air conditioner set to the fan mode may be able to filter out some of the particles by “re-circulating” the indoor air through the filter.)
  • Use air purifiers with HEPA filters. Try to get an air purifier that has a HEPA (PM2.5) filter. (Do not use air cleaner devices that produce ozone such as “super oxygenators”.)
  • When driving, keep windows closed, run the air conditioner, and set the air to recirculate to reduce smoke.
  • If you do have to go outside, wear a disposable respirator mask that is rated as N95 or higher to inhale less pollution.

Ground-level ozone

Ground-level ozone is created when pollution from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants and other sources chemically react to sunlight. Ozone can cause several health problems, including coughing, breathing difficulty and lung damage. Exposure to ozone can make the lungs more at risk of infection, diseases, asthma attacks, as well as an increased risk of early death from heart or lung disease. Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself when ozone is high in your area:

  • Check air quality conditions in your area by checking regularly.
  • Choose a less-intense activity.
  • Shorten and take more breaks during outdoor activity.
  • Move activities to the morning or to another day.
  • Stay inside where ozone levels are usually lower.
  • Spend less time near busy roads.

Call your doctor if you or someone around you experiences symptoms that may be related to pollution exposure, including shortness of breath, repeated coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea, unusual fatigue or lightheadedness. Pay particular attention to those most sensitive to the health impacts of poor air quality like children, older adults, people with heart or lung conditions as well as those who are pregnant.

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