How are ozone and particle pollution harmful?

Ozone tends to be more of a problem in the warm summer months. Levels of this colorless, odorless gas can increase during the day, peaking in the late afternoon to early evening. At elevated levels, ozone is a threat to everyone’s health, but those who are most susceptible are people with lung diseases such as asthma, children, older adults and healthy people who are active outdoors.

Ozone causes cells in the lungs to swell and get inflamed – similar to what happens to your skin cells when you get sunburned. Repeated episodes of this kind of inflammation may cause permanent damage to the lungs.

 
Healthy Lung Airway   Inflamed Lung Airway

Ozone aggravates asthma and other lung diseases, leading to increased medication use, visits to doctors and emergency rooms, and hospital admissions. Recent studies have also linked ozone exposure with premature death.

Can you tell if ozone is affecting you? You may experience symptoms like coughing, a burning sensation when you breathe, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. If you have asthma, you may find yourself needing to use medicine more frequently, or you may have asthma attacks requiring a doctor's attention.

Particle pollution can occur at any time of year. If you live in an area with high woodstove use, for example, particle pollution may be higher in your community in winter. In many areas of the eastern US, particle pollution may also be high in the summertime, often accompanied by high levels of ozone. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are considered at greater risk from particle pollution than other people, especially when they are physically active.

Particle pollution can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Particle pollution has been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias in people with heart disease, and also to premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

If you or your children are healthy, you’re not likely to suffer serious effects from short-term, peak exposures to particle pollution. But when particle pollution is elevated, you may experience irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Reducing your exposure to ozone and particle pollution isn’t hard. Just take it a little easier. If pollution is forecast to be high in your area, cut back or change the time of your strenuous activities: go for a for a walk instead of a jog, or reschedule for times when the air quality is expected to be better. If you have asthma, be sure to follow your asthma action plan with air pollution levels are high. And don't exercise near busy roads; particle levels generally are higher in these areas.

Particle levels can be elevated indoors too, especially when outdoor particle levels are high, such as during an inversion or when there’s a lot of smoke outside (such as from a wildfire). Certain filters and room air cleaners can help reduce indoor particle levels. You can also reduce particle levels indoors by not smoking inside or vacuuming, and by reducing your use of other particle sources such as candles, wood-burning stoves, and fireplaces. Go to https://www.epa.gov/iaq/homes/index.html for more information.