Ozone, Air Quality, and Asthma
If your child has asthma, you probably understand triggers — those substances or activities that bring on breathing problems.
But what if the asthma trigger is in the air your child breathes? Ground-level ozone and other air pollutants can trigger worsening symptoms and asthma flare-ups. But you can help minimize your child's exposure.
Ozone is a gas that's found in both the Earth's upper and lower atmospheres. The protective ozone in the upper atmosphere is very different from the harmful ozone in the lower atmosphere. Ozone that exists naturally 10 to 30 miles (16 to 48 kilometers) above the Earth protects us all from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.
But ground-level ozone is different. It's found close to Earth's surface and is a serious pollutant. It's produced when sunlight combines and reacts with chemicals produced by cars, power plants, and factories. That's why ground-level ozone, a main component of smog, tends to be higher in sunnier climates or during hot, still weather.
Ground ozone levels have declined somewhat since 2000, but according to the American Lung Association, 58% of the population of the United States live in areas with unhealthy ozone levels. This includes 4 million kids with asthma who live in towns or cities with very high levels of ozone.
Although ozone gets a great deal of press, it's not the only pollutant that causes poor air quality. In 2004, for the first time, the American Lung Association included not only ozone but particle pollution levels in its annual "State of the Air" report for the United States.
Particle pollution refers to tiny particles of acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), dust, dirt, smoke, soot, and droplets from aerosols that are suspended in the air we breathe. The smaller the particles, the deeper they can get into the lungs, where they cause problems.
Particle pollution data are graded by both year-round and short-term levels:
- More than 47 million U.S. residents, including over a million kids with asthma, live in areas with levels of particle pollution that are unhealthy year-round.
- Almost 93 million Americans live in areas that experience too many days with short-term spikes (from several hours to several days) in particle pollution, including 2.1 million kids with asthma.
In addition to ozone and particle pollution, other pollutants include gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. High levels of these gases can also affect lung function.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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