Air pollution: why it makes us sick and ways to stay protected
Air pollution is hazardous for both the environment and people. Here are some quick tips to help limit the amount of pollution in the air.
As we say goodbye to the poor air quality of winter, we need to prepare for air pollution in spring. Areas with serious air pollution problems are usually easy to spot. Thick smog from the air pollution blankets the skyline in a haze of smoke and the smell in the air is enough to make you feel light-headed or sick. But, in many places, air pollution is less extreme. You may not see the pollutants in the sky nor know that they are even there except for suffering from an unexplainable cough or irritated throat. Other symptoms of air pollution’s effects include dry eyes, nose and skin; coughing, sneezing and wheezing; and tiredness and dizziness.
Polluted air also works as a habitat for infectious viruses that pass to your lungs and other parts of your body as you breathe. According to the World Health Organization, about 7 million people die due to outdoor and indoor air pollution each year. Microscopic air pollutants slip past our body’s defenses, penetrate our respiratory and circulatory systems, and damage our lungs, heart and brain.
Photo by Reimund Bertrams
What causes air pollution?
There are six molecules mainly involved in causing air pollution. The pollutants can have different effects on our immune system, depending on the exposure. Another main factor in air pollution is ozone depletion, which allows toxic material to reach the earth. The causes of ozone depletion are numerous, including chlorofluorocarbons that are the byproduct of industrialization. Oxides like carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, and nitrogen oxide are also harmful to the atmosphere and human health. The sixth dangerous particle is lead.
Photo byVivian Monconduit
How to stay protected
Protecting yourself and your family from air pollution isn’t easy. But there are some simple tips that you can follow.
Keep your windows rolled up in the car to protect yourself from oxides.
Check the air filters in your home. It may be time to replace them, which is important because the filters stop working when they are clogged with a buildup of air pollution.
Invest in an air purifier with HEPA filters to help your home air filters work better.
If you live in an area prone to severe air pollution or extreme conditions like wildfires, keep tabs on air quality by reading the AccuWeather Air Quality blog. On days when the air quality is very bad, wear an air mask when you need to be outside for prolonged periods of time.
If you have heart or respiratory problems, always carry your medication with you when you go outdoors. Follow your doctor’s instructions to keep your condition under control as air pollution can exacerbate some respiratory problems
Be extra cautious when you exercise outside. When you are physically active, you breathe deeper and faster, putting yourself in greater contact with air pollutants. To avoid air pollution while exercising, try to avoid busy roads or commercial areas where there is a lot of traffic.
Photo by Renate Köppel
Preventing air pollution at home
To maintain clean air at home, it’s important to follow best practices that reduce the likelihood that you may be causing pollutants yourself. Steps you can take to avoid generating home air pollution include:
Avoid smoking inside.
Fix leaks or water infiltration problems to prevent mold growth.
Use environmentally friendly household products and materials.
Install a carbon monoxide detector and avoid using appliances that operate on gas or propane inside.
Measure the concentration of radon in your home with a measuring instrument called a dosimeter..
Turn on the range hood when cooking. The hood should be vented outside.
Turn on the bathroom fan each time someone takes a shower or a bath.
Photo by Ralf Vetterle
You can avoid most dangers to live a healthy life, but you can't keep yourself from breathing. That’s why it’s important to take air pollution seriously, and to understand the best ways to avoid the pollutants that can do us harm.