Ahh, summer! Sunny skies, warm temperatures … perfect for spending time outdoors! Unless, that is, you’re vulnerable to air quality issues because of age, illness, or chronic respiratory issues.
You may have heard your local TV or radio station issuing air quality warnings during the height of summer. What gives?
It turns out that the same weather conditions many people find pleasant — sunshine, clear skies, high temperatures, low humidity, and light winds — are the very same conditions that aggravate air pollution.
Here’s how it works. On hot days, sunlight reacts with oxides of nitrogen and other volatile organic compounds emitted by vehicles, construction equipment, and other industrial sources to create ground level ozone, more commonly known as “smog.”
Some ozone is produced every day, no matter what the weather conditions are. Ironically, though, the weather conditions many people find inhospitable — precipitation, cold temperatures, and strong winds — work to “clean” the air, preventing smog from accumulating to dangerous concentrations.
During high-pressure fronts, however, the air stagnates and literally thickens. These fronts are characterized by warm, sunny weather.
Is Smog Dangerous?
Ground level ozone is an irritant. It can affect your lungs, eyes, nose, and throat. In large quantities, smog can cause coughing and headaches.
Smog can also reduce lung function, the amount of air that you can inhale and the speed at which you are able to exhale, making it difficult to breathe as deeply and quickly as normal. It can also burn the linings of the lungs, similarly to the way a sunburn affects your skin. This heals quickly, but can have cumulatively damaging effect with repeated exposures.
Smog can also aggravate chronic respiratory issues such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, and can even make people more sensitive to allergens like dust mites, pet danger, and pollen.
These effects are most pronounced in children, the elderly, those with compromised respiratory function, and anyone who spends the majority of their time outdoors.
So, if you hear about an air quality warning for your area, try to stay indoors and reduce the amount of pollutants you emit by limiting driving to emergency trips. Smog is nothing to sneeze at!