The Summer, The Smog, The Breathing Problems

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I just have to smile when I read headlines like Summer Weather Can Aggravate Asthma, Doctors Say, not because I find heat-triggered asthma particularly amusing but because summer means nothing but relief around these parts. We’ve headed into a Flovent-free three months during this, AG’s easiest season, and she doesn’t usually need her bronchodilator much during this time of year, either. At the same time I dread the Florida late summer, I can’t deny a profound–if short-lived–sense of freedom.

Whew.

(wipes forehead)

Time to travel light for awhile.

This kid dominates her lungs, big time, during the hot months.

Because she doesn’t have allergic triggers, of course. (except that ubiquitous dust mite one) Her respiratory system does not even flinch in the face of summer molds and grasses, and save for the usual pulmonary wobble during the recent season change–and possibly when we visit Colorado next month–I don’t expect any problems for some time.

However.

August is a little more of a challenge, which pretty much matches the overall misery of that month in this state. Humidity hits its peak in August, and it feels even hotter because while I sit there sweating, I know–I know–the nights are starting to cool down for so many other people who are not me.

It’s impossible to describe the late-summer humidity of the Florida panhandle if you’ve never experienced it. Directly north of me? The Alabama stateline and then the landmass of North America. Directly south? The Gulf of Mexico. So all that moisture blowing in off the warm Gulf just sits over land.

It.Just.Sits.There.

It soaks the air like a blanket someone drenched in water, nuked in the microwave, and then draped right on top of my head. And it is probably only fair, this humid heavy side of the equation that balances out the beach and the easy winters.

Of course, fair never means much when we’re right in the thick of it, and it certainly doesn’t help AG breathe better since the very worst humidity can trigger my kid if she’s already running around and taxing her lungs.

Here’s one problem with those humid days: the heat and sunlight trap pollutants like volatile-organic compounds (VOCs) and turn them into ground-level ozone, or smog.

Ozone in the atmosphere = good
Ozone near the ground = bad

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This is smog in Los Angeles, not my city, but you get the picture.

The hotter and heavier the air, the more pollutants stay trapped where we breathe, and here’s why that’s a problem

1. It affects the entire respiratory system.
2. It can reduce lung function and damage the lung lining.
3. It can cause and/or worsen asthma flares.
4. It can make other chronic lung conditions worse, too.

Hence the Ozone Alert days on your local news. On days with high levels, the experts recommend limiting outside time for sensitive people (like persistent asthmatics) or at least avoiding strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day, when the smog is worst.

The thing is, does anyone even watch the news on television anymore? I don’t unless A) something major like a primary or an election is happening or B) a hurricane’s sitting out in the Gulf and eyeing my part of the coast. It’s easier and faster to get the alerts online.

Check these out:

AIRNow Ozone Map
Weather Channel State Air Quality Tool

For really detailed reports, Google *ozone alerts* and your community’s name. Most areas have some sort of monitoring system, and you can even add the feed to your homepage or get updates sent through your email.

13 responses to “The Summer, The Smog, The Breathing Problems”

  1. ABC News says:

    ABC News is looking for video submissions describing your asthma experience along with any tips or advice you have for others. Check it out here: http://ugv.abcnews.go.com/Player.aspx?id=4491504

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    We get the ozone in the air from temperature inversions. Since we live so close to a convergence zone, we get warmer air trapped below cooler quite often in the summer. This leads to ozone trapping and me having difficulty with outdoor activities.

  3. Kerri says:

    My lungs hate humidity!
    Even the change in humidity before rain will make my lungs act weird. I don’t hate rain itself, just the pre-rain humidity rise.

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