The smells of summer are in the air. The aroma of barbeque wafts by, the scent of suntan lotion is unmistakable, and you can almost taste the salt in the air at the beach.
You may be able to recognize all these smells, but during the summer months, there may be something else in the air that is not so pleasant.
Ground-level ozone is a gas formed by the combination of sunlight with hydrocarbon vapors and nitrogen oxide emitted by cars, power plants and factories. This type of ozone is primarily found in urban areas with heavy traffic or highly industrialized communities. Ground-level ozone is different from protective ozone in the upper atmosphere that is 10 to 30 miles above the earth. Ozone in the stratosphere helps reduce the amount of ultraviolet rays from the sun that reaches the earth’s surface.
Ground-level ozone, however, is not beneficial. It can irritate the respiratory system, resulting in coughing and throat irritation. It also may reduce lung function, inflame and damage cells lining the lungs, worsen chronic lung diseases, cause permanent lung damage, and reduce the ability to fight off lung infections. Ground-level ozone also is a common trigger for asthma.
Asthma is an inflammatory lung condition that makes breathing difficult. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 34 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. Asthma is the leading chronic illness in American children and is more prevalent among African Americans. In addition to ozone, an asthma attack may be caused by a respiratory infection, extreme temperature change, allergens, exercise, stress or cigarette smoke.
People at greatest risk for experiencing health problems related to ground-level ozone include those who have chronic lung diseases such as asthma, children, people who work or exercise outside and senior citizens. Ozone levels usually are higher from May to October when there is more sunlight, higher temperatures, and stagnant atmospheric conditions that are favorable to the formation of the gas.
To reduce exposure to high levels of ozone that may cause an asthma attack, people can:
•Remain indoors as much as possible.
•Restrict outside activities to the early-morning and evening hours.
•Avoid working or exercising strenuously outside when ozone levels are elevated.
•Avoid high traffic areas and gas-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, outboard motors, or off-road vehicles.
•Use an electric starter rather than charcoal lighter fluid when barbecuing.
•Steer clear of paints, varnishes and solvents that produce fumes.
If you live in an area that is prone to high ozone levels, you can check the Air Quality
Index (AQI) to determine whether air quality is unhealthy. The AQI is a color-coded system
created by the Environmental Protection Agency that measures major air pollutants.
Going outside when air quality is green or yellow is acceptable. You should try to remain
indoors when it is orange, red, purple or maroon. AQI ratings are available from your
local newspaper, weather reports or the government-sponsored AIRNow website at
Dr. Ryan Kissane is a new family medicine physician at Brookwood Baptist Health, Primary & Specialty Care Talladega. He obtained his undergraduate degree in biological sciences from Florida State University and his medical degree from St. George’s University. He served as chief resident at Jamaica Hospital in New York City, which is an affiliate hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.