The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Outdoor Pollution and Your Lungs
People living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) know that flare-ups can mean the difference between a good day and a terrible day. Life is more difficult when the symptoms of lung disease are present. Knowing what triggers symptom flare-ups can greatly reduce the number of days that your life is debilitated by lung disease. Smog effects on COPD can be harmful to people trying to combat the disease. Although a minor trigger for symptoms, smog is almost completely avoidable.
COPD Symptom Flare-ups from Smog
Smog is made up of pollutants in the air. All of the pollutants are manmade and most come from the burning of fossil fuels that cause excessive amounts of greenhouse gases. Some sources call this type of smog bad ozone because when pollution interacts with the sunlight and heat, it creates a compound similar to that of the ozone. Unfortunately, this ozone is extremely hazardous when inhaled.
Bad ozone is typically composed of very small air pollutant particles, which tend to stick in the lungs. This in turn, can irritate your airway causing it to inflame. When your airway is inflamed your lungs do not function well, meaning you need to inhale more air to get the needed oxygen for your body. This can cause increased chest pain and shortness of breath. Also, ozone has a very reactive quality and can cause oxidation in the lungs, which can kill healthy cells.
Worst Air and Best Air
Smog is mostly present in areas of heavy population that depend on the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industry. NASA recently did a study that mapped smog by the area of the country. The results were not surprising for areas like Los Angeles, New York City and most of the mid-Atlantic seaboard, where the amount of smog is fairly heavy. However, there are areas of central California and the southern area of the Appalachian Mountains where the populations are much smaller, yet there is a good amount of smog. This is most likely caused by the geography of the areas, both sit in relative valleys. A single molecule of ozone is composed of three molecules of oxygen, one of the heavier greenhouse gases. The weight of three oxygen molecules is substantially heavier than nearly all other gas compounds found in our air, so it tends to sit lower than other gases. When ozone collects and drifts into low areas surrounded by higher elevations, like a valley, the ozone sits stagnant in the air and is unable to escape.
Tips on Avoiding Smog
Staying indoors as much as possible is definitely a good idea if you are currently suffering from a symptom flare-up. If you live in an area with heavy smog pollution, definitely spend as little time outside as possible, especially in urban areas. Additionally, you should utilize air purifiers in your home to combat the pollutants that might make their way indoors. If you must go outside, try using a breathing mask to limit the amount of pollution you breathe. Of course, you can always relocate to an area that has less smog, but this is understandably difficult for most people.