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Poor Air Quality Symptoms: Treatment & Prevention

Face mask and air quality measurements sensor

Written by Emily Spring 

You look down at your phone and see an orange air quality alert pop into your notifications. Looking outside, the sky is sunny and there seems to be a thunderstorm in the distance, but is it safe to go outside? That greatly depends on your location, time of year, and the degree of pollutants. 

Poor air quality can impact the quality of your health, particularly if you already experience respiratory symptoms, leading to physical discomfort and feelings of weakness. To that end, monitoring your local Air Quality Index (AQI) can help you avoid detrimental air pollutants and their accompanying symptoms.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how the Air Quality Index is measured, what symptoms you might experience when exposed to poor air quality, and how to get by when the air quality is unsafe.  We’ll also look into natural methods you can follow and functional mushrooms supplements you can try to help prevent these symptoms.

What is the AQI and What Does it Measure?

The AQI is the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and helps to inform US citizens about the air quality within their particular region. This index is calculated using air quality monitors that are stationed across the country, which measure the level of major pollutants in the air.

It’s important to check the AQI for your area because it can provide useful information about the health risks associated with traveling, walking, or exercising outside. Here is a breakdown of the different levels of concern:1

  • Green/good – The air quality poses little to no risk.
  • Yellow/moderate – Air quality is acceptable for most people, posing a slight risk to those who are particularly sensitive to pollutants.
  • Orange/unhealthy for certain groups – General public is less likely to be affected than specific at-risk groups.
  • Red/unhealthy – Members of the general public may experience ill effects. Members of at-risk groups can expect more severe health reactions.
  • Purple/very unhealthy – This is a health alert. Everyone should avoid the outdoors as much as possible for their own health and safety.
  • Maroon/hazardous – This is an emergency condition. Everyone is likely to be impacted at this point, and it can become very dangerous for children and those with respiratory diseases. 
  • You must heed the warnings of your AQI because it can help warn you about a potential health risk. Just as you would check the weather before going camping, you should always look at the Air Quality Index for the day before traveling or making any plans outdoors.

    The Six Criteria Air Pollutants

    Since the Clean Air Act was passed, the EPA now lists six common air pollutants under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Each one of these pollutants can be found across the United States and poses a risk to your health. 

    Here are the six common air pollutants as defined by the EPA:2

  • Ground-level ozone – Stratospheric ozone is the compound that helps protect life on our planet. However, tropospheric ozone, or ground-level ozone, is a hazardous chemical that is created when the pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, and factories react with sunlight.
  • Particulate matter – Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, including soot, dust, dirt, and smoke. Sources that emit large amounts of particulate matter include wildfires, cars, and factories.
  • Carbon monoxide – This compound is made whenever an organic substance like fossil fuel is burned. In large amounts, it can often prove harmful. Major contributors of carbon monoxide include machinery that burns fossil fuels, such as cars and trucks.
  • Lead – You probably know how toxic lead can be when ingested. But did you know lead can actually get into the air? Major contributors to air lead pollution include the ore and mining industry and the aviation industry, which occurs when aircrafts burn lead-based fuel into the atmosphere.
  • Sulfur dioxide – Sulfur dioxide can prove hazardous to both people and the environment. Oftentimes, sulfur dioxide creates an atmospheric haze that can obscure vision across long distances. Industry factories and fossil fuel-burning plants are the primary contributors of sulfur dioxide.
  • Nitrogen dioxide – Nitrogen dioxide is one of many volatile gases that can harm your respiratory system and is produced when fuel is burned and released into the air. Children, older adults, and people with asthma are primarily impacted by nitrogen dioxide’s effects.
  • What Does Poor Air Quality Do to You?

    Even if you are not at risk from airborne-related health issues, you still are impacted by the pollutants in the air. This is why it is important to check your AQI, as long-term pollutant exposure can impact your health over time.

    For Air Quality Indexes that are listed as red or above, the general public can experience the following, regardless of their disposition to respiratory issues:3

    • Increased severity for cardiovascular or respiratory illness 
    • Damaged and irritated airways and cells

    Those who experience long-term exposure to these pollutants can have more chronic health issues such as:3

    • Aging of the lungs
    • Decreased lung capacity and function
    • The onset of respiratory infections or illnesses
    • Reduced lifespan from respiratory-related damage
    • Extra stress on the heart and lungs, which have to work harder to filter oxygen out of the air

    If you are worried you’ve been exposed to a large amount of any of the common pollutants, look out for common signs of exposure. These can include symptoms like:3

    • Dry or sore throat
    • Headache 
    • Nausea
    • Chest discomfort
    • Trouble breathing
    • Wheezing or coughing
    • Feelings of weakness

    Talk to your physician if you experience any of these poor air quality symptoms and consider looking into switching up your routines and habits to avoid exposure to hazardous air quality and keep your lungs and heart healthy. 

    How Do I Avoid Bad Air Quality?

    According to the American Lung Association, you can take active steps to ensure that you are protecting yourself and your loved ones from poor air quality and pollutants. 

    First and foremost, you can check the air pollution forecasts in your area to make sure the air quality is safe before going outdoors. Your local news channel, weather radio, or newspaper often offers AQI reports. Likewise, you can look at sites like airnow.gov, which can provide you with a report of the air quality based on your zip code, city, or state. 

    However, the safest action to take when the air quality is poor is to protect your lungs by staying indoors. If you have to leave your house, it’s recommended to wear N95 respirator masks, which are certified to filter out 95% of airborne particles. 

    #1 Stay Indoors

    If you exercise outside frequently, you are more at risk of the negative conditions caused by poor air quality. Instead, avoid exercising outdoors when you notice higher outdoor air pollution levels from your local AQI. Opt to work out indoors on a treadmill, bike, or gym instead.

    You should also avoid exercising in regions of your town or city where more pollutants are being emitted into the air. This can include places with high amounts of traffic, which even under green AQI conditions can produce significant amounts of outdoor air pollution in the region.4

    This also goes for any walking or shopping you might do in the city. If the air quality is bad, avoid sitting out on the restaurant patio with your friend and ask for an inside table instead.

    While indoors, consider: 

    • Using a HEPA air filter – These filters clean the air inside your house to reduce the number of harmful fine particles in your home.
    • Avoiding the duster or vacuum – Avoid dusting or vacuuming on high air pollutant days, as this may cause fine particles to resurface and reenter the air.
    • Keeping doors and windows closed – If you live near a busy intersection or in an area with bad air quality, it’s best to keep your doors and windows closed to keep harmful pollutants out of your home. 

    #2 Monitor Your Indoor Air Quality

    If you spend the day indoors, can bad air quality affect you while you’re in the home? Absolutely. Even if you equip your house with a HEPA filter in every room and keep your doors and windows sealed, many pollutants originate from within your home. 

    According to the EPA, the most common indoor air problems come from the release of gas or particles from stoves and cleaning products.5

    To combat this, you should take an audit of the products in your home (and car) to see what might be creating poor air quality. In addition, you can also take some preventative measures to ensure your at-home air quality is desirable:4

    • Vent your gas stove – When your gas stovetop burns, it releases byproducts that worsen the quality of air in your home. Make sure to turn on the fan above your stove when cooking to help ventilate the kitchen.
    • Throw out your harmful cleaning and care products – Some household products can actually produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) even when not being used. Switch to low VOC products and avoid products with strong fragrances or store them away from the home.
    • Improve ventilation – By improving your home’s ventilation, you can lessen the amount of harmful airborne particles in the house. Make sure you switch out your home’s air filters and your car’s cabin air filter. Doing so can reduce the number of pollutants recirculating in your space.

    For more natural ways on how to combat air quality symptoms at home, read our guides on lung cleansing herbs and the benefits of breathwork

    Empower Your Lungs with Plant People’s Advanced Lung Guard

    Poor air quality can be detrimental to your health, sometimes resulting in physical discomfort and weakness. Stay vigilant of your area’s AQI and take preventive measures to make sure you and your loved ones are living in a safe, pollutant-free environment. 

    If you want to give your lungs a boost against harmful pollutants, try Plant People’s mushroom supplements - specifically Advanced Lung Guard. It’s packed with herbs that are research-backed to protect your respiratory system from free radicals, pollutants, and environmental stressors.

    At Plant People, we combine exceptionally sourced ingredients with clinical research to develop doctor-formulated products that promote a healthy respiratory system. Explore how our supplements can restore and protect your lungs today.

     

    Written by Emily Spring 

    Emily Spring is the Director of Marketing at Plant People. A longtime proponent of balanced living, she has enjoyed over 8 years driving growth in the lifestyle, health and wellness sectors with deep experience in functional solutions for optimizing anyone's everyday life.

     

    Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy

     Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.

     Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.


    Sources: 

    1. AirNow. Air Quality Index (AQI) Basics. https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/ 
    2. EPA. Criteria Air Pollutants. https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants#:~:text=The%20Clean%20Air%20Act%20requires,particulate%20matter%2C%20and%20sulfur%20dioxide 
    3. Sparetheair. Health Effects. http://www.sparetheair.com/health.cfm 
    4. Molekule. When Air Pollution Gets Worse: 10 Tips to Protect Yourself. https://molekule.science/when-air-pollution-gets-worse-10-tips-to-protect-yourself/ 
    5. EPA. The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality 

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