Nancy P., MA | American Lung Association

Nancy P., MA

I’ve had an asthma attack just standing at a bus stop when a truck drives up and blasts me with diesel smoke. I have to go to a full-service gas station and pay more to have someone pump my gas, because the gasoline fumes can make me sick. I even have to use an air filter in my car just to avoid feeling nauseous and short of breath from all the chemicals in the air. I will go out of my way to avoid driving behind any car that is spewing dirty tailpipe exhaust.

It's important to understand that my respiratory issues are much more than a complaint or an inconvenience. It's actually very dangerous for me to inhale pollutants in the air. I have to be hyper-vigilant about my environment. It doesn't take much to set off a bout of uncontrolled coughing, wheezing, gasping for air and a light-headed feeling.

It's hard for people who don't have sensitive lungs to imagine what it's like to worry about whether you need to call an ambulance because you can't breathe. In fact, an ambulance also exhausts diesel particles and is not a safe option.

Since I live and work in an urban area, toxins in the air from industry and cars can be an enormous challenge. On high pollution advisory days, I am careful to keep track of ozone levels and when it approaches an unhealthy level, I measure my lung function to determine whether I can go outside, which can severely restrict my life in terms of taking a long walk, exercising outside, driving a car and traveling.

On a trip to Europe, where diesel fuel is so prevalent, I was quite ill the whole time and had to stay inside in the air conditioning and limit my sightseeing trips. I've probably had asthma all my life and struggled with chronic bronchitis for years, but was only diagnosed at age 39. The good news is I finally have an answer as to why I had not felt well most of my life.

Today, I feel fortunate to have my respiratory problems well controlled without the need for daily medication. But it's taken an enormous effort to take make that happen. I'm not only sensitive to air pollution, I also have many food allergies, as well as allergies to pollen, fungus, mold spores, chemicals of all kinds and synthetic materials.

I have to be careful going to public places or walking by areas where people are congregating to smoke outside. Construction dust, applications of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as spraying for mosquitos can trigger an attack.

With the global climate changes that are occurring, allergy and pollen season seems to be starting earlier and lasting much longer. Those of us plagued with allergies may eventually find that allergy season is a challenging year-round problem.

What can be done about the quality of our air? We knew 30 years ago that pollution could make people sick and if we had taken steps to do the right thing then, we wouldn't be where we are today. To the industry executives and legislators who are opposed to cleaning up our air because of the cost to industry, I say, try to live my life for a week and see if you could do it. I may be more sensitive than most people, but all of us are affected when pollution puts clean air and our health at risk.

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