How Air Quality Can Affect Your Asthma

Summer air pollution can bring on asthma symptoms. Find out what you can do to be prepared.

Woman using an inhaler

Updated on July 27, 2023.

If your feel your asthma worsens in the summer, you are not alone. There are a few reasons why the heat and humidity of the season may affect your ability to breathe. Find out how summer weather can affect your condition and what you can do to help avoid an attack.

Why is your breathing worse in the summer?

Two types of air pollution may worsen asthma symptoms. One is ground-level ozone. On hot days, pollutants from vehicles, factories, and other sources mix with heat and sunlight to form smog.

Particles in the air can also affect the ability to breathe. These particles may be caused by haze, smoke, and dust. The smallest particles present the greatest health risk to those with asthma, as they are easily breathed in and can become trapped in your lungs.

Even thunderstorms may trigger asthma attacks in some people, especially when the pollen count is high. Pollen spores take in moisture at the onset of a storm before they burst, spreading fine particles that are easy to inhale.

How do you know when air quality is bad?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) measures air pollution around the country. Before heading outside, check AirNow.gov for the latest forecast in your area.

An AQI over 101 is risky for those with asthma, although you may begin to notice changes in breathing when the AQI is under 100. An AQI above 150 is unhealthy for everyone, although those with asthma are at greater risk for serious health effects.

What can you do on days where the AQI is high?

If the AQI in your location is high, take these precautions to prevent an asthma attack.

Limit your time outside. Stay indoors during peak sunlight hours, which are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on typical summer days. Save any outdoor activities for morning and evening.

Avoid exercising outdoors. Switch to an indoor workout. If you had planned a high-intensity workout, like running, switch to a lower-intensity activity, like walking.

Avoid exercising near busy roads and highways. Being around traffic or smog is especially dangerous during rush hours.

Keep windows closed. Switch on your air conditioning instead.

Make sure medications are filled and accessible. Keep your inhalers or any asthma medication ready in case you begin to feel the symptoms of an asthma attack.

Discuss an asthma action plan with your healthcare provider. You may need to change medications or adjust your asthma action plan based on the time of year.

Above all, if you feel your asthma symptoms are worsening, stop the activity you are doing. Follow your asthma action plan by taking any necessary quick-acting medications or inhalers. Contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms do not get better.

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