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Joseph L., IL

As an allergist, I have seen firsthand how badly people with asthma and allergies are suffering this spring. The mild winter here in Chicago has led to an early spring with unusually high volumes of tree pollen blowing in from Southern states. Weeds that typically do not grow this time of year are also in full bloom. This double whammy of potent allergen triggers has caused great suffering among my patients and others here in the Midwest.

There are many precautions I advise my patients to take to best minimize their asthma and allergy symptoms. Respiratory health tips include: take your medications as prescribed by your allergist; keep windows around the home closed to preserve indoor air; wash your hair before bed to avoid carrying pollen into the home environment through one's clothing or hair, because air pollution is something my patients cannot control.

I am certified by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology to perform the official allergy count for the Midwest. During allergy reporting season, I collect pollen samples with specially designed equipment on the rooftop of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. I always find microscopic bits of soot and pollution indicating that the air is quite dirty and the quality is poor. Over the years, the air quality samples I see have progressively gotten worse. In discussions with my medical respiratory health colleagues internationally as well as nationally, we all agree that air pollution continues to be a growing problem.

Cleaning up the air we breathe is essential to everyone's health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rightly working to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Carbon is an essential ingredient in the formation of smog and is a serious and sometimes even deadly threat to people with lung disease or other respiratory ailments. As the air seems to get dirtier, I am seeing more and more patients with COPD and asthma.

Aggressive changes are needed to ensure that the air we breathe is no longer the cause of emergency room visits, asthma attacks, respiratory infections and premature death. That begins with addressing the most prolific sources of air toxics including power plants, industrial boilers and automobiles. Repairing the damage to our ozone will not happen overnight. By fighting for air today, our children will have the chance to know a healthier tomorrow. Many are already paying for bottled drinking water to guarantee purity and safety. Will the public be paying for bottled air next?

First Published: May 3, 2012

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