Breathe Easier on Ozone Alert Days

Saturday April 22 is Earth Day. You may remember reading highway signs or hearing about ‘ozone alert’ days during the weather forecast, but what exactly is an ozone alert day? Sumita Khatri, M.D., explains how poor air quality can impact our breathing.

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CLEVELAND – They’re often posted on highway signs or mentioned during the weather forecast, but what exactly is an ozone alert day?

According to Sumita Khatri, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, ozone alert days usually happen during the months of May through September, when there’s more heat, sunlight and pollution from motor vehicles.

“Oxygen gets converted to ozone, which can be an irritant to the airways and for people with lung and heart problems, this can be a problem,” said Dr. Khatri.

Dr. Khatri said air quality alerts are intended to help you change your behavior so that you are not around areas of air pollution, or adding to it.

She said there is a difference between ozone and particulate matter, both which can cause the need for an air quality alert.

Ozone is typically a summertime pollutant, whereas particulate matter are small pieces of particles suspended in the air, which can be present throughout the year.

Both can cause folks with heart and lung problems to suffer irritation of the lungs resulting in coughing and the need to use a rescue inhaler.

Dr. Khatri said symptoms can sometimes take a day or two to show up. In the days following poor air quality alert, doctors typically see more people visit the emergency room for care.

She said the best thing to do during an alert is to stay indoors during the afternoon hours, when levels are at their highest, and to especially avoid exercising outdoors.

Even those who don’t experience breathing issues can take steps to help protect those around them who might.

“During hot, humid days, not pumping gas into your vehicle, because the escaped fuel goes into the atmosphere and that can be translated to ozone,” said Dr. Khatri. “Also if you can ride-share and not be stuck in traffic, with all that traffic pollution, that also adds particles to the air.”

Dr. Khatri reminds us that although people with heart and lung problems see the most effects, everyone can be affected by air quality.

For those who have an established action plan with their doctor, it’s important to always be prepared and have a rescue inhaler ready at all times and to seek help as soon as symptoms appear.

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