Guide To Managing Asthma Amid Extreme Air Pollution

Air pollution and asthma have been said to have a connection. In the past three decades, the prevalence of asthma has increased globally, and air pollution is apparently the main reason behind the rise. Read this article to find out more.

By URLife Team
09 Feb 2023

Air pollution and climate change have been hot topics in recent years. These two concerning events have raised valid points over the years.

Although there are several natural sources of air pollution such as volcanos or wildfires, the industrial revolution and urbanisation have made air pollution an actual global crisis. With the growing urbanisation comes along climatic changes that cause extreme air pollution, causing a rapid elevation in temperature and posing a threat to human health. One of the leading health conditions normally associated with air pollution is asthma. Exposure to air pollution earlier in life can put an individual at risk of developing asthma during childhood and adolescence.


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Related story: 3 Ways Climate Change Affects Your Health


Asthma And Air Pollution: What's The Connection

It's no secret that air pollution is a growing problem worldwide. Polluted air is hazardous to everyone who breathes it but it is worse for individuals with asthma.

For many years, extensive research has been done on the relationship between asthma and air pollution. And with the increasing evidence, both indoor and outdoor air pollution contributes to aggravating asthma.

So why does pollution make life so much harder for those with asthma? For starters, it contains particles such as smoke and dust, which irritate the sensitive lining of the lungs, triggering an attack. Pollution also increases the amount of ground-level ozone, which can worsen inflammation in the airways and cause cough and difficulty breathing.

While air pollution is bad for anyone with asthma, some patients are more vulnerable and can be affected even on low-pollution days. They include:

  • Children and young adults, since their lungs are still developing
  • Elderly patients who have other chronic conditions like heart diseases
  • People already suffering from severe and uncontrollable asthma
  • People with pollen allergies

A study conducted in the urban population demonstrated that the connection between air pollution and asthma was more evident in kids than in adults or adolescents. Furthermore, the American Thoracic Society Workshop Report concluded that long-term exposure to air pollution was one of the leading causes of childhood asthma, but the same cannot be said with surety for adult asthma. Studies are yet to be conducted that can conclude the role of air pollution and adult asthma.


Related story: How Much Do You Know About Your Lung Health


Facts About Poor Air Quality And Childhood Asthma

Three studies have highlighted the connection between asthma and poor air quality:

  • Adolescents being exposed to air pollution: A study revealed that a surge in ozone levels could actually lead to a decrease in lung function, even when asthma patients were taking their medication. In addition, higher ozone levels were connected to higher levels of fatty substances in the blood, a discovery never before noted in adults. All in all, this indicates that ozone may have an impact on at-risk individuals, even at low concentrations, and it goes further beyond simply affecting the respiratory system.
  • Air pollution might impact asthma-associated DNA: Though researchers are not completely clear on what causes air pollution to increase asthma prevalence, it appears, according to a study, that air pollutants repress genes that control the ability of the immune system to tell an allergen apart from a virus or bacteria. This causes the body to loop into an inflammatory response regardless of the substance, thus resulting in asthma.
  • Asthma in children related to coarse particulate matter exposure: Researchers have discovered that exposure to coarse particulate matter found outside may increase the risk of children developing asthma and needing immediate treatment. Surprisingly, coarse PM (for example, road dust, brake and tire wear, and numerous metals) had been considered less hazardous due to their bigger particle size, but new studies indicate otherwise. Not only can coarse PM deposit into airways, but its exposure might be related to heart and lung diseases.


Related story: Proof That Sustainable Living Can Significantly Decrease Your Carbon Footprint


What Should You Do On High Pollution Days With Asthma

Dealing with the common symptoms of asthma requires a stepwise plan to help you prevent it from reaching an uncontrollable stage where asthma attacks might occur commonly, especially on high-pollution days. Here are some ways you can manage your asthma better on high-pollution days:

1. Make It A Habit To Check The Pollution Forecast

Before leaving the house, make it a habit to check the air quality index by installing apps that indicate the same. Here are some levels of pollution and what you can do when the air quality is on the set scale:

  • Low Pollution: You usually don't need to worry or change your outdoor plans.
  • Moderate Pollution: Combined with a minor show of asthma symptoms, avoid doing physical activities outdoors.
  • High Pollution: Limit physical activities outdoors.
  • Very High Pollution: Avoid going outdoors or doing physical activities outside.


2. Shut The Windows And Doors If Smoke Bothers You

The smoke from barbecues, bonfires, and wood burning can also pollute the air quality. For some patients with asthma, even this smoke can irritate their airways, causing asthma symptoms to flare up. If this is the case for you, make sure to close your doors and windows to eliminate the smoke from coming inside your home.

Have your inhaler by your side in case asthma symptoms show up. If the trouble persists, contact your doctor for help.


Related story: How To Quit Smoking


3. Make A Complete Action Plan

Create a personal asthma action plan. An action plan tailored by you or your doctor will give you the how-to’s of responding to different symptoms, taking medications, and preparing when an asthma attack is near. Always carry your inhaler to provide you with much-needed relief.


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Take Preventive Care In Reducing Air Pollution

Prevention is key to protecting ourselves and future generations from the damaging effects of air pollution on our respiratory systems, particularly asthma. Taking proactive steps to reduce air pollution, such as riding bicycles more often, carpooling, and supporting regulations limiting emissions, are simple yet effective ways to improve our air quality.


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