On Wednesday morning, air pollution advisories were issued to about 100 million people in the United States, from South Carolina to New Hampshire and the Northeast, including Boston, New York City and Philadelphia.
In the northeast, the smoke from the raging wildfires in eastern Canada has worsened air quality and drifted into the United States. In some areas the smoke is so thick that people can smell it and the sky seems hazy.
Beyond the northeast, high concentrations of ground-level ozone, also known as smog, are causing unhealthy air levels in many urban areas across the country.
Follow live coverage of air quality in the US and wildfires in Canada
What causes poor air quality?
According to Allergy & Asthma Network allergist and immunologist Paavi Palik, Ph.D., poor air quality can be caused by airborne “irritants,” i.e. airborne particles and substances that can be harmful if inhaled by a person. It is said that there is a sexuality. A group for people with asthma, allergies, and related conditions.
Examples include air pollution from cars and carbon dioxide emissions, and rising ozone levels, Parikh said.
Natural disasters, such as wildfires, introduce smoke containing carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, often causing a rapid deterioration in air quality in a short period of time.
“All of these things can be harmful, as they can cause particulate matter that can get deep into your lungs when inhaled,” she says.
The Environmental Protection Agency uses the Air Quality Index to report air quality. It ranges from 0 to over 300, with levels 50 and below being considered the healthiest. Above level 150, the general public may begin to experience symptoms.
What are the negative health effects of poor air quality?
Dr. Wynn Armand, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate director of the MGH Center for Environmental Health, said in general that many of the health problems people experience from poor air quality are similar to the health problems people feel from wildfire smoke. said that it may overlap. .
Air pollution from wildfire smoke can cause breathing difficulties for anyone, but especially for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with asthma and other pre-existing respiratory conditions, she said. .
In the short term, it can also cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation and increase the risk of respiratory infections.
In the long term, exposure to air pollution is associated with several chronic health conditions, including:
- severe asthma
- premature birth
- Heart disease
- lung cancer
- child has low IQ
Smoke is especially dangerous for pregnant women because their lung capacity is usually reduced due to their growing bellies, Parikh said. Exposure to air pollution during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy may also be associated with gestational diabetes, according to a study published in March.
Additionally, air pollution can adversely affect fetal development and increase the risk of low birth weight babies, miscarriages and stillbirths. A global analysis found that air pollution likely contributed to about 6 million premature births in 2019.
How can I protect myself when the air quality is poor?
Experts advise checking regularly for air quality warnings. His website for the EPA, AirNow.gov, lets you track air quality by entering your zip code. Many smartphones have apps that also track air quality.
Brady Scott, a fellow of the American Respiratory Care Association, a professional organization of respiratory therapists, advised people to close doors and windows and stay indoors as much as possible. This includes activities such as exercise that can stress your lungs.
People with respiratory-related health conditions, such as asthma, should be closely monitored for symptoms, he added. They also need to make sure that drugs such as inhalers are available and have not expired.
“People know their bodies very well. If you see changes that you think are related to bad air, you may need to contact your doctor or advanced health care provider.” ‘ said Scott.
Parikh advised people to keep their homes well ventilated. Those who need to go out can wear masks, such as N95 respirators, which help filter out particulate matter in the air, she said.
“Believe it or not, wearing a mask, as it did during COVID-19, acts as a barrier between people and helps reduce the amount of particulate matter you inhale. she said.
Armando advised against dusting or mowing the lawn on days with poor air quality. Burning candles and using gas stoves on these days can also contribute to poor air quality.
Palik said people should see a doctor if they experience coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain or wheezing, or hear a whistling sound in their chest.
Is poor air quality bad for pets?
According to Parikh, yes.
“Other mammals suffer from many of the same lung diseases that humans do,” she says.
Scott said people should keep pets such as cats and dogs indoors as much as possible.
“If your pet is outdoors, running around, or spending most of its time outdoors, it probably can cause some respiratory, respiratory, and lung irritation,” he said. rice field.
follow NBC Health upon twitter & Facebook.