Staying Safe When Air Quality is Poor

Poor air quality can stem from natural events like wildfires, hurricanes, or even floods. But in too many cases, it’s a result of human actions, such as the use of fossil fuels for our cars, factories, and homes. So, if you get a JustAir text alert saying the air quality near you is poor, what do you do?

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During periods of poor air quality, it's crucial for individuals to prioritize health and take necessary precautions. Personal decisions regarding health management vary from person to person but here are a few ideas for how you might decide to take action when air quality is poor:

1. Avoid Strenuous Outdoor Activity

Sometimes being outside is unavoidable, especially if you work in jobs like construction or landscaping. However, if you have the choice, it’s best to avoid strenuous outdoor activities - like going for a run, playing sports, or gardening - when air quality is poor. 

When you work out, you breathe more deeply and rapidly, leading to increased inhalation of pollutants present in the air. Poor air quality can impair lung function, making it harder for the body to take in oxygen, and expel carbon dioxide. This can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness, especially during vigorous exercise.

It’s especially important to prevent children from exerting themselves outside when air quality is poor. Children have developing bodies, including their respiratory and immune systems, which are more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution. Their lungs are still growing, and they breathe more rapidly than adults, which means they inhale more air (and pollutants) relative to their body size. Sadly, when air quality is poor, it’s often a good idea to keep kids home from outdoor activities to keep their developing lungs safe.

2. Wear an N95 Mask

Several years ago, it would have been unlikely that you or your family members have an extra N95 mask in your home, but that isn’t the case today. Wearing a mask when air quality is poor can provide several benefits - most importantly, protecting yourself from particular matter (PM). Masks, especially those designed to filter fine particles like N95 masks, can help reduce exposure to airborne particulate matter present in polluted air. PM can penetrate deep into the lungs and pose health risks, including respiratory issues and cardiovascular problems. A mask acts as a barrier, preventing these particles from entering the respiratory system.

3. Keep Medications on Hand

Poor air quality can exacerbate respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness, particularly in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Having medication readily available allows individuals to manage these symptoms promptly and effectively.

Knowing that medication is readily available in case of respiratory distress can alleviate anxiety and stress associated with exposure to poor air quality, allowing individuals to better cope with environmental challenges.

4. Stay Indoors with the Windows Closed

Ventilation is very important for your health, so don’t close windows all the time and it’s not recommended you stay indoors for long periods of time. It’s also true that indoor air quality can sometimes be worse than outdoor air quality (learn more here). However, when you are certain that air quality is bad outdoors, it’s recommended you close your doors and windows. This can protect you and your family from pollutants such as smog or wildfire smoke. This is especially important if you have at-risk groups in your home, such as the elderly or young children. 

5. Change Air Filters

Indoor air filters help remove airborne particles, pollutants, and allergens from the air, improving indoor air quality. When outdoor air quality is poor, pollutants such as particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can infiltrate indoor spaces through ventilation systems, open windows, and doors. Regularly changing air filters helps prevent these pollutants from accumulating indoors, reducing exposure and maintaining a healthier indoor environment.

Poor indoor air quality can exacerbate respiratory symptoms and worsen existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections. Dirty or clogged air filters can impede the effectiveness of air purification systems, allowing pollutants to circulate freely and potentially causing or worsening respiratory issues. Changing air filters ensures that air purification systems can effectively remove pollutants, helping to protect respiratory health and alleviate symptoms.

6. Purify Indoor Air

Air purifiers are designed to remove airborne pollutants such as particulate matter, allergens, dust, pet dander, pollen, mold spores, and VOCs from indoor air. Air purifiers help remove airborne particles and irritants that can trigger or exacerbate respiratory issues. By reducing exposure to pollutants, air purifiers can help alleviate symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and nasal congestion.

Indoor plants can also serve as great natural air purifiers! Plants can help remove certain airborne pollutants from the air through a process called phytoremediation. Plant leaves and roots absorb pollutants such as VOCs, formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene from the air, effectively filtering out these harmful substances. In addition, during photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air. Increasing oxygen levels in indoor spaces can help improve air quality and create a fresher, more invigorating environment.

Stay Informed: How’s Your Air?

Being aware of air quality is the first step of staying safe. At JustAir we’re dedicated to ensuring everyone has the air quality information they need to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. Visit the JustAir platform to check air quality near you or sign up for text alerts. If you don’t yet have JustAir available in your community, contact us to get started!

Darren Riley
July 21, 2022
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