Making the Connection – Asthma and Air Quality

(May 1, 2013)

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, dust mites, molds, cockroaches, pet dander and household 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.

"There is nothing worse than watching your child struggle to breathe."

Rachael Lemire-Murphy

Rachael Lemire-Murphy, and her two young children, Mia and William, all suffer from asthma. Seven-year-old Mia has lived with “moderate persistent asthma” much of her life. This has meant episodes of painful coughing, sometimes hours long, which rob her of much needed sleep, and a strict daily regimen of medications that attempt to keep serious flare-ups at bay. For Rachel, there is nothing worse than watching your child struggle to breathe.

Mia’s doctor has advised her mother Rachael to monitor the air quality forecast, and on poor air quality days to keep Mia indoors to prevent an asthma attack from occurring.

 “I am hesitant to confirm my children’s participation in even the most basic outdoor activities, which most parents would never second guess, until I know the air is safe to breathe and won’t be the catalyst that could send my son or daughter to the emergency room,” says Rachael.

What frustrates her most is that she knows it doesn’t have to be this way.

“With safeguards available that would cut down pollution levels and lead to fewer poor air days, there should be no question about what steps Congress should take to help all our kids breathe freely. For all children, clean air is a right, not a privilege.”

You can help Mia breathe healthier air
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed tough new standards for cleaner gasoline and lower tailpipe pollution. These new standards will significantly cut air pollution from vehicles on our roads, help protect public health and encourage innovation. Tell EPA that you support cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards to protect Mia and millions of children like her.

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.

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 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.
  • Clean surfaces in your home weekly with a damp cloth and HEPA-filtered vacuum.
  • 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.

For more tips, click here.

Ventilation is a very important step to keep the air quality in your home as clean as possible. Fresh air needs to come indoors while dirty indoor air needs to go outside. Installing a central air conditioning unit may be very beneficial to people living with asthma. Be sure to do the following:

  • Maintain your central air conditioning unit to ensure that it bringing fresh air in and removing dirty air to the outdoors.
  • Install and run exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Vent fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves and heaters to the outside and use an exhaust fan or open a window slightly.
  • Open windows and use extra exhaust fans when you're working with paints or chemicals indoors.

For more tips, click here.

Get the tools you need

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

  • You can 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.
  • Asthma Basics is 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.
  • Our Breathe Well, Live Well program is an asthma self-management program targeting adults. It aims to improve asthma symptoms and control by improving knowledge and self-management skills. A self-help manual will be available in June 2013.
  • Open Airways For Schools is a series of classes for children in elementary school, ages 8-11, that is taught during the school day by a certified instructor. The program works to teach children to recognize asthma symptoms, while also providing the knowledge and skills to know what to do when asthma gets worse.
  • 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

  1. Asthma Triggers | Asthma | US Environmental Protection Agency