Air pollution and allergy you are what you breathe
Dealing with Bad Air Quality
Even though you can’t see it, the air you breathe can affect your health. Polluted air can cause difficulty breathing, flare-ups of allergy or asthmaA chronic lung disease that causes wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing., and other lung problems. Long-term exposure to air pollution can lift the risk of other diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Some people ponder of air pollution as something that’s found mainly exterior.
They may picture cars idling or power plants with smoke stacks. But air pollution can also happen inside—in homes, offices, or even schools.
Whether outdoors or indoors, the effects of air pollution are most obvious for those who already own difficulty breathing. “All people are likely susceptible to the adverse effects of air pollution. But people who own chronic lung diseases such as asthma are more susceptible,” explains Dr. Nadia Hansel, who studies lung problems at Johns Hopkins University.
NIH researchers are working to understand and reduce the impact that air pollution—both outdoors and indoors—has on health.
Several diverse types of pollutants can affect your health.
When the weather is warm, an invisible gas called ozone can make it harder for some people to breathe. This gas is created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen and certain pollutants from cars, factories, and other sources.
Ozone can irritate the lining of your airways and lungs. People with asthma and other lung conditions are more likely to feel its effects.
“When people with poorly controlled asthma are exposed to low levels of ozone, the quantity of inflammationSwelling, redness, or irritation caused by the body’s protective response to injury or infection.
in the lungs goes way up,” explains Dr. Daryl Zeldin, a lung and environmental health science expert at NIH. “As a result, air passages narrow, which makes it much harder to breathe.”
Another type of outdoor pollutant that affects health is particulates. These are fine and rough particles that are released when fuel is burned. They can come from things love cars, power plants, and wildfires.
Research has linked particulates to short- and long-term lung problems.
To track these and other harmful pollutants, air quality monitors own been set up at over 1,000 locations across the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses these monitors to produce the Air Quality Index (AQI). The index can be found online at www.airnow.gov.
People who are sensitive to outdoor pollution may desire to use the AQI to track when levels are high.
This information can assist you make choices about when to do outdoor activities.
Improving Air Indoors
Indoor air pollution can be harmful, too. It can come from numerous sources. Secondhand tobacco smoke contains tiny particles that can hurt your lungs. Gas stoves and appliances can create harmful gases.
Pets and pests (such as mice and cockroaches) can shed substances, called allergens, that cause allergies. Mold and dust mites also produce allergens. Even furniture and cleaning products can release harmful compounds into the air.
In recent years, researchers own learned a lot about how exposure to indoor pollutants contribute to disease.
“Studies are now asking: What do we do about it? What sorts of things can assist reduce some of these exposures?” Zeldin says.
Several NIH-funded researchers are looking at ways to reduce harm from indoor air pollution.
Hansel studies the use of air cleaners (also called air purifiers) to improve the air quality for older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This condition makes it hard to breathe and puts people at increased risk of dangerous lung infections, such as pneumonia.
“Studies own shown that high pollutant levels inside the home can make breathing harder for people with COPD,” Hansel says.
Hansel’s team is now testing whether using air cleaners with special filters in the home can decrease COPD symptoms. The filters they’re testing remove both particulates and nitrogen dioxide, a gas pollutant produced by cooking.
The researchers will compare COPD symptoms in people who use the filters with those who don’t.
They hope the use of the filters will also reduce hospital visits.
Research has shown that improving indoor air quality in the home can improve the health of kids with lung conditions, explains Dr. Wanda Phipatanakul, a children’s health expert at Boston Children’s Hospital.
But while air quality in the home matters, children can spend more than eight hours a day indoors at school. Improving air quality in schools has the potential to improve the health of numerous children at once, Phipatanakul adds.
“Home-based interventions assist individual families, but targeting schools could assist every the kids that are there, and has much more potential for impact,” she says.
Phipatanakul is running an NIH-funded study in about 40 schools.
The intervention includes air cleaners in classrooms to remove particles and special pest control strategies to reduce allergens. The researchers are tracking children with asthma at the schools over the school year to see if the intervention improves their symptoms.
Research has shown that, in addition to improving health, improving indoor air quality can also boost how well kids do in school. “Kids who come to school and aren’t as ill are going to do better. So that’s helpful of the overall goal,” Phipatanakul says.
One excellent thing about indoor air pollution is that numerous causes can be removed or changed.
“It’s hard to change the outdoor environment,” Phipatanakul says, “but indoors is more contained.”
A simple tool for numerous homes is making certain inside air has a chance to escape.
“Ventilating your home, such as opening windows, can actually lower the air pollution levels inside, and it really doesn’t cost anything,” Hansel explains.
This strategy may not work on days when outdoor pollution is extremely high, she says. Paying attention to the AQI or other measures of outdoor air quality can assist you decide when to let inside air out.
Learn more about air pollution.
An allergy is a reaction the body has to a specific food or substance.
Allergies are extremely common. They’re thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives.
They’re particularly common in children. Some allergies go away as a kid gets older, although many are lifelong.
Adults can develop allergies to things they were not previously allergic to.
Having an allergy can be a nuisance and affect your everyday activities, but most allergic reactions are mild and can be largely kept under control.
Severe reactions can occasionally happen, but these are uncommon.
What causes allergies?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a specific substance as though it’s harmful.
It’s not clear why this happens, but most people affected own a family history of allergies or own closely related conditions, such as asthma or eczema.
The number of people with allergies is increasing every year.
The reasons for this are not understood, but 1 of the main theories is it’s the result of living in a cleaner, germ-free environment, which reduces the number of germs our immune system has to deal with.
It’s thought this may cause it to overreact when it comes into contact with harmless substances.
How to manage an allergy
In many cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible.
For example, if you own a food allergy, you should check a food’s ingredients list for allergens before eating it.
There are also several medicines available to help control symptoms of allergic reactions, including:
- decongestants – tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids that can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose
- lotions and creams, such as moisturising creams (emollients) – these can reduce skin redness and itchiness
- antihistamines – these can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen, to stop a reaction occurring
- steroid medicines – sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets that can assist reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction
For some people with extremely severe allergies, a treatment called immunotherapy may be recommended.
This involves being exposed to the allergen in a controlled way over a number of years so your body gets used to it and does not react to it so severely.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
Allergic reactions generally happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.
They can cause:
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- a red, itchy rash
- wheezing and coughing
- a runny or blocked nose
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can happen.
This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.
Substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens.
The more common allergens include:
- food – particularly nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs and cows’ milk
- mould – these can release little particles into the air that you can breathe in
- medicines – including ibuprofen, aspirin and certain antibiotics
- latex – used to make some gloves and condoms
- animal dander, tiny flakes of skin or hair
- dust mites
- insect bites and stings
- grass and tree pollen – an allergy to these is known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- household chemicals – including those in detergents and hair dyes
Most of these allergens are generally harmless to people who are not allergic to them.
Getting assist for allergies
See a GP if you ponder you or your kid might own had an allergic reaction to something.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be caused by other conditions.
A GP can assist determine whether it’s likely you own an allergy.
If they ponder you might own a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to assist manage the condition.
If your allergy is particularly severe or it’s not clear what you’re allergic to, they may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.
Find out more about allergy testing