Allercy and Asthma Health
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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Understanding the Air You Breathe

By Debi Holloway, BA, RRT, AE-C

Summer is upon us, and as ground-level ozone increases, people with respiratory conditions like asthma can have trouble with their breathing.

It is important to understand the Air Quality Index (AQI) and how it can help those with asthma decide when to limit or avoid outdoor activities.

How do we get AQI readings?

The readings consist of ground-level ozone combined with particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide; when combined, these create a toxic atmosphere. The U.S. government monitors the levels of these pollutants in the air and reports a daily AQI on its AIRNow.gov website. In most states you can also find this reading alongside weather reports in your local newspapers, local news reports, and local news websites. If you haven’t already noticed the AQI, take the time to familiarize yourself with these sources so you can readily find the information.

While your local newspapers and TV stations generally do report the AQI in conjunction with their weather reports, people who are especially sensitive can also sign up for a free service that will send them an e-mail whenever the AQI reaches dangerous levels in their communities. How easy is that? Knowing where to find the information can make all the difference!

But what does it all mean?

Now that you have learned where to get AQI readings for your area, the next question might be, “What do the color-coded numbers mean?”

The government has published these recommendations:

  • Green or “Good”/AQI of 0-50: No special measures are needed.
  • Yellow or “Moderate”/AQI of 51–100: People who are unusually sensitive should consider reducing prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.
  • Orange or “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”/AQI of 101–150: People with asthma and other lung conditions; children and older adults; and people who are active outdoors should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.
  • Red or “Unhealthy”/AQI of 151–200: People with asthma and other lung conditions; children and older adults; and people who are active outdoors should avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion. Everyone else should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
  • Purple or “Very Unhealthy”/AQI of 201–300: People with asthma and other lung conditions; children and older adults; and people who are active outdoors should avoid all outdoor exertion. Everyone else should limit outdoor exertion.
  • Maroon colored or “Hazardous”/AQI of 301–500: An AQI of this level triggers health warnings of emergency conditions.

You can be in control

The air we breathe can be hazardous to our health; poor quality air can have many effects on the body. The air we breathe can irritate the respiratory system and can make conditions like asthma worse, and it can also lead to chest pain and other problems in people with heart disease.

Try to keep track of the AQI on a daily basis, for it is a good way to make sure you are protected during the worst of our summer days. You can be in control by modifying your activity on the bad pollution days and heavy pollen days that will make a difference in the air you breathe.

Debi Holloway is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) member from Queen Creek, AZ. She currently works for Ashfield Healthcare as an asthma educator for health care providers. She is the mother of an asthmatic.

 

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