Making the Connection – Asthma and Air Quality

(May 5, 2014)

Julie and her kids fight asthma
 Julie - The mother of children with asthma. Read her story.

Clean air is an important health concern for all of us. But when you have asthma, air quality indoors and out can make all the difference in the world. Car exhaust, smoke, road dust and factory emissions can make outdoor air dangerous, while tobacco smoke, fragrances, dust, molds, cockroaches, pet dander and household or workplace chemicals are just a few of the indoor hazards. For the nearly 26 million Americans with asthma, including 7 million children, unhealthy air can create a difficult barrier to asthma management. Although asthma can’t be cured, it can be controlled. The Lung Association is here to help you breathe easier by making the connection between air quality - indoor and out - and your asthma.

An asthma “trigger” is anything that causes symptoms making it difficult to breathe. While an asthma trigger can be many things, from exercise, extreme temperatures, to even stress, some of the most common triggers are impurities in the air. Being aware of what’s in the air, and things you can do to reduce the risk is an important key to living an active and healthy life with asthma.

Protect Yourself Outdoors

People with asthma are particularly sensitive to the health risks of outdoor air pollution. Ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot), the most common air pollutants, are powerful asthma triggers, as are vehicle exhaust, wood smoke and fumes. Because outdoor air quality can be beyond your control, the best defense is knowledge. Knowing the current air quality outside can help you plan your day and make decisions about things like exercise, travel and time spent outside that will best protect your health. You can’t always see or smell air pollution. The best way to stay informed before you leave your home is by checking the air quality forecast. That forecast uses a color-coded air quality index(AQI) that can help you know how clean or polluted the air will be.

If you have a smartphone, you can check the AQI any time by downloading the American Lung Association’s free State of the Air app. This app gives you current local air quality information and helps you decide what actions to take.

Here are some tips to protecting yourself outdoors:

  • Reduce or limit exercise or strenuous activities outdoors when the AQI is orange or higher. Exercise indoors and save yard work for a day when the forecast is better.
  • If you are unusually sensitive (for example, people with more severe asthma), you may want to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion if the AQI is at yellow.
  • If the air quality worsens to red or purple, avoid outdoor activities.
  • Always avoid exercise near high-traffic areas. Areas within 1/3 mile of a busy highway likely have much more pollution even when the rest of the community has a green air quality forecast.
  • Advocate for healthy air protections.

Remember that children are at particular risk even if they don’t have asthma. They tend to be more active, breathe faster, and expose their lungs to more pollutants.

For more tips, click here.

Protect Yourself Indoors

Many people don’t know that the air indoors can be even more polluted and harmful than the air outside. Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors1. Indoor air can be filled with asthma triggers like cigarette smoke, dust mites, molds, cockroach allergen, pet dander, gases or fumes, household or industrial chemical irritants and wood smoke.

The best way to protect your family at home, school or work is to avoid air pollution in the first place. Here are some of the most important steps you can take:

  • Make sure no one smokes indoors. Second hand smoke has been associated with the development of asthma in children and may cause asthma symptoms in people living with asthma.
  • Clean surfaces in your home weekly with a damp cloth and HEPA-filtered vacuum. You may have less control on the use of cleaning products at work. If you suspect that your work environment is causing asthma symptoms, talk to you employer.
  • Eliminate sources of moisture by fixing water leaks and using exhaust fans when showering, cooking or washing dishes.
  • Keep humidity levels below 50 percent.
  • Put away food, cover trash and use baits to control pests, like cockroaches.
  • Don’t use scented candles or fragrances to cover up odors. Many of the chemicals used in products to make them smell good can cause asthma symptoms.

For more tips, see the American Lung Association resources on keeping the air healthy while at home and school, and learn the four steps to controlling asthma at work.

Ventilation is a very important step to keep the air quality indoors as clean as possible. Fresh air needs to come indoors while dirty indoor air needs to go outside. Follow these tips to clean dirty air indoors:

  • Use exhaust fans that moves the air to the outside in kitchens, bathrooms, and work spaces to remove moisture and gases from the house. If an exhaust fan in not an option for the space, open a window to remove fumes and airborne particles.
  • If you paint or use hobby supplies or chemicals at home or work, add extra ventilation. Open the windows and use a portable window fan to pull the air out of the room.
  • Make sure gas appliances vent completely to the outside. Do not use ventless stoves.
  • Have gas or oil stoves, dryers or water heaters inspected by a qualified technician once a year. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your bedrooms.
  • Never idle your car in an attached garage.

Get the tools you need

The American Lung Association has valuable tools and programs that can help you get your asthma, or your child’s asthma under control:

  • Download our Asthma Action Plan, a tool that helps you monitor asthma control, and explains what to do if asthma gets worse at home, school or work.
  • Participate in Asthma Basics, a 50-minute online learning module that is targeted to adults and caregivers interested in learning more about asthma. Participants that complete the course are able to recognize and manage asthma triggers, understand the value of an Asthma Action Plan, and recognize and respond to a breathing emergency.
  • Learn about asthma in a fun way with Lungtropolis® (, a web-based game for children with asthma and their parents.
  • Participate in a self-management education class, such as: Breathe Well, Live Well, an asthma self-management program for adults, and Open Airways For Schools, a series of classes for children in elementary school, ages 8-11, that is taught during the school day by a certified facilitator. These programs teach children and adults to recognize asthma symptoms, while also providing the knowledge and skills to know what to do when asthma gets worse.
  • Review the American Lung Association Guide to Controlling Asthma at Work to learn the four easy steps to managing asthma at work.
  • Download our State of the Air app to keep up with the air quality in your area.

Take Action

You can help fight for healthier air, increased asthma research or protect health services for people with asthma by becoming an Asthma Advocate. You can also support the work of the American Lung Association by making a donation, and getting involved as a volunteer.

Related Links

Have questions about your lung health? Ask an expert. Call: 1 800 LUNGUSA or 1 800 586 4872. » Learn More