Almost nothing compares to a breath of fresh air in the summer. But, what feels like a cleansing breath can actually be a gulp of irritants that might harm your lungs. Some of these irritants are a result of ozone, a toxic gas composed of oxygen.
There are actually two types of ozone. One occurs naturally in the atmosphere, and the other type, called tropospheric ozone, is caused by air pollution from engines and power plants. Tropospheric ozone levels may increase on hot, sunny days in the late spring, summer, and early fall, making breathing particularly difficult for those with asthma.
Why is my asthma sometimes worse in the summer?
On especially hot days, an “ozone alert” may be issued. This means that people with asthma should avoid breathing outside air as much as possible to stave off allergens and irritants and prevent symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest discomfort, or a burning feeling in the lungs. As an extra precaution, asthma sufferers should also limit time outdoors, stay in a well-ventilated (ideally, air-conditioned) building, and refrain from engaging in outdoor exercise or strenuous activity.
While ozone irritation is generally worse on hot summer days in the afternoons or evenings, particle air pollution can be bad any time of year and in any weather. In fact, particle levels may be elevated when the weather is calm, as the air pollution has had a chance to accumulate. Levels may be particularly high near busy roads, during rush hour, around factories or industrial areas, when smoke from wood stoves or fireplaces is in the air, and around burning vegetation.
What can I do to avoid ozone and particle pollution?
Unlike foods and other allergens, air pollutants are not easily avoidable. Rather, you need to adapt your lifestyle to try to reduce the effects that unhealthy air can have on your body.
As with any medical condition, the best way to manage your symptoms is to check with your physician. She or he is your most reliable resource for determining what you can do to stay healthy.