Unhealthy Air Quality Index: How to deal with air pollution and asthma

For people with asthma, poor air quality days can be dangerous

It’s no secret that Greater Louisville is a challenging place to live for people with allergies and asthma.

Warm temperatures early in the spring and late into the fall can create a long growing season for allergen-producing plants. The Ohio Valley limits airflow, causing allergens to get trapped in its basin, especially in the hotter months. This is the perfect setup for poor air quality.

Poor air quality created by ground-level ozone, air pollution and allergens can trigger wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing and even hospitalization for people with asthma. What does an “ozone action day” or “air quality alert day” mean for people with asthma?

What is the Air Quality Index?

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a measure of how clean or polluted the outdoor air is, along with associated health effects that may be of concern. The AQI helps people understand when to take action to protect their health.

An air quality alert day, or air quality action day, is when the AQI is in an unhealthy range. When the AQI is 101 or above, it is unhealthy for people who are sensitive to poor air quality, such as older adults, young children and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Knowing the AQI and your own personal triggers can help you plan for alert days.

How to protect yourself when air quality is poor

Be informed

Knowledge is power. Louisville Air Watch is a resource that shows real-time air quality data from Environmental Protection Agency-approved air monitors located throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana. You also can sign up for email or text alerts about air quality through Kentuckiana Air Education (KAIRE) and set notifications based on the AQI.

Stay inside if you can

If it’s an air quality alert day, the air is unhealthy for everyone, but it’s even worse for people with breathing issues. If you must go outside, try to limit your time outdoors. Limit strenuous activity, such as mowing the lawn or exercising, to either early morning or the evening when the air quality may not be as bad.

Stay hydrated and breathe through your nose

Drinking water can help your lungs work their best, no matter what the air quality is. Staying hydrated can help the mucous lining of the lungs from getting too thick. Also, if you’re not getting enough water, your lungs have to work harder to swap oxygen for carbon dioxide.

Breathing through your nose is important as well — it’s your body’s built-in air filter. It brings the air to the right temperature and level of humidity for your lungs. If you breathe through your mouth, you’re taking in all the bad stuff in the air.

Keep medications close

If you’re prescribed medications for asthma or another breathing condition, make sure you take them as prescribed when the air quality is poor. Make sure you carry a rescue inhaler in case of an asthma attack. If you haven’t used your rescue inhaler in a while, check its expiration date to make sure it’s still effective. If it’s expired, ask your doctor for a new prescription.

Using a rescue inhaler more than twice a week? Talk to your doctor

If you or a loved one is using a rescue inhaler often, it may mean you need a preventive medication or a change in dosage to your preventive medication. Talk with your health provider about making an asthma action plan.

Using your rescue inhaler more?

Talk to your doctor

Pulmonlogy and Respiratory Care at Norton Healthcare

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