May is Asthma Awareness Month, but it also marks the beginning of summer “smog” season, when ozone pollution levels can rise and pose a special health threat to those 25.5 million Americans, including 6.8 million children and teens, suffering from asthma, warns the American Lung Association.
“Ozone pollution can seriously threaten the health of people with asthma, as well as other chronic lung diseases like COPD,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association. “Ozone causes wheezing and coughing, triggers asthma attacks, increases the risk of hospital admissions and emergency room visits and even increases the risk of premature death.”
Sometimes called smog, ozone pollution forms in the atmosphere when gases that come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources react in the presence of sunlight, and rising temperatures from climate change makes it harder to reduce ozone. Scientists have studied the effects of ozone on health for decades, and have found that it acts as a powerful respiratory irritant at the levels frequently found across the nation, especially during the summer months.
“When a person inhales ozone pollution,it reacts chemically with the body’s internal tissues causing inflammation, almost like a sunburn of the lung,” said Rizzo. “And the harm is greater for those most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, especially people with asthma, but also children and teens, older adults, and even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors.”
Rizzo recommends that everyone check on their local air quality, which is reported in the annual “State of the Air” report. This report looks at the most current quality assured ozone data, collected in 2011-2013, and provides a report card based on those data available by zip code online at StateoftheAir.org.
“People with asthma and other chronic lung diseases need accurate information about the pollution in the air they breathe,” Rizzo said. “We urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update the ozone standard to reflect current science, based on the evidence of what is needed to prevent harm to children and people with asthma and COPD.”
Cleaner air is crucial to protecting people with asthma. The American Lung Association urges the EPA to safeguard the air for people with asthma by strengthening the ozone standard to the most protective level under consideration. Doing so could prevent as many as 7,900 premature deaths and 1.8 million asthma attacks.