'Bad air' increases health risks for millions of asthma patients

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bad air Nearly half of the U.S. population lives in areas with unhealthy ozone levels, according to a 2006 report. For people with respiratory and lung diseases, especially the estimated 20 million Americans with asthma, "bad air" days pose an exceptionally high risk. The health risks associated with high levels of ozone aren't limited to summer months, and people can feel the effects of smog all year long.

Over the last decade, ozone levels have increased for many reasons, including higher temperatures and humidity, said John D. Cox, author of "Weather for Dummies." Despite this, people are still unaware that ozone is dangerous even at its lowest levels.

When inhaled, ozone can irritate lung airways and cause inflammation, and exposure to elevated levels of ozone can also increase the need for medical treatment and hospitalization in people with asthma. People who are active and people with asthma and other respiratory problems are at a higher risk on these days.

Asthma is a chronic disease causing inflammation to the lung's airways and tightening of the muscles surrounding the lung's airways. Together this causes the airways to narrow and can result in symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightening of the chest cavity.

"With increasing ozone levels and the extreme heat during the summer, I saw twice as many asthma patients this year," said Dr. Eric J. Schenkel, asthma expert and director of the Valley Clinical Research Center in

Easton, Penn. "It's important for people with asthma to know that the risk of high ozone levels doesn't go away after the summer. Asthma patients should continue to take their maintenance treatment regularly. If your asthma is under control, then you're less likely to experience symptoms because of asthma triggers like ozone.

"Asthma affects people differently so I encourage everyone to talk to a healthcare provider," Schenkel said. "By monitoring the frequency and severity of a patient's symptoms, physicians help ensure patients are on appropriate therapy. I've found that I'm able to control many of my patients' symptoms with a singleingredient inhaled corticosteroid along with occasional use of a rescue inhaler."

According to accepted asthma guidelines, inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce airway inflammation, are the recommended firstline maintenance treatment for mild to moderate persistent asthma.

"Work with your doctor and stick to the asthma therapy plan that is right for you," said Schenkel.

Asthma patients should take the following precautions to enjoy the outdoors:

  • Monitor local weather forecast for ozone alerts. Limit time spent outdoors when Orange, Red and Purple ozone alerts are issued. •Turn on the air conditioning in your home and car to help control humidity.
  • Limit outdoor activities to the early morning when ozone levels are lowest. Those who suffer from asthma should plan ahead and be alert to the conditions around them, said Cox. They can help prevent asthma symptoms from interfering with their daily activities.
source - Toacorn