Can Air Quality Impact Asthma and COPD?

Rochelle Burnside

Last Updated: April 8th, 2021

With pollution and densely populated urban areas growing, it makes sense that this might be a concern for patients with asthma and COPD. Experts have noticed a connection between air quality and the exacerbation of COPD and asthma. Many practitioners have advice on how to protect your home with good air quality as this is the most important component of safety, but is there anything you can do about your air quality outdoors? How can your external environment impact COPD and asthma?

Urban areas

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows users to see a rating of the air quality in their region. As you look at this map, you might notice that populated cities are more likely to have poorer air quality. A rating of 101–150 marks a region as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”

Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network, says, “Large cities [and] living near highways increases your risk due to higher carbon emissions.” We’ll talk more about cars later, but urban areas produce many air hazards because of the cities’ need to power a densely populated location and because there are so many cars packed into one place.

If you’re struggling with exacerbations in an urban area, you might want to relocate your residence. Even surrounding suburbs leading to big cities can have better air quality. As Parikh explains, “It's best to have good air quality without too much exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution.”

Heat and humidity

Summer can be a particularly difficult time for those with respiratory issues, because hot, humid air can create ideal conditions for high quantities of pollution, mold, ozone, and pollen, all of which can impact air quality and exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Patients should stay in cool areas during warm months and make sure they have any necessary medications and treatments accessible.

Car emissions

Car emissions can affect COPD and asthma, too. If you’re living near a busy highway, this might cause some trouble. Parikh suggests living in areas away from busy roads.

Several studies have proven this form of air pollution can cause severe asthma attacks.

Industrial chemicals

Similar to the issue with car emissions, populated areas are dangerous for those with respiratory conditions because exposure to certain industrial chemicals can exacerbate them.

You might need to scrutinize your work life for this one. Employees who work in conditions involving dust, fumes, and chemical substances elevates the risk of COPD. Careers in manufacturing and shipping and processing could be vulnerable to these factors.

Secondhand smoke

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, so it’s no wonder that secondhand smoke is capable of affecting the condition. To many, the risks of secondhand smoke come as no surprise — they have been reiterated by many established professionals.

To avoid contact with secondhand smoke, stay in smoke-free areas. Many restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces either prohibit smoking altogether or in certain areas. Lending your support to smoke-free businesses and legislation will ensure you have safe places to visit in your area.

Avoiding areas with poor air quality

While you now know some of the factors that affect asthma and COPD, here are some tips to improve your quality of life outside your home:

  • Push for smoke-free work policies at your place of employment
  • Check the air quality of regions you want to visit and plan accordingly
  • See if the attraction or business you are visiting has no-smoking policies
  • Carry any emergency medications with you when you leave your home

By being aware of these air quality influencers and what you can do to avoid them, you might be able to improve your quality of life. Living with a respiratory condition can feel limiting, but increasing your understanding of the condition can help you mitigate those limitations.

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