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American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Encourages Those With Asthma to Take Precautions During High Ozone Days


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology


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MILWAUKEE, July 31, 1998 -- To many Americans, concern over depletion of the ozone layer may seem to conflict with the weatherman's warning about high ozone on humid days. This confusion arises because ozone can be good or bad, depending on where it is. The ozone layer of the atmosphere is very high up, at the edge of space. This ozone protects us from dangerous UV radiation. However, excess ozone at ground level can be extremely detrimental, and can actually trigger physical symptoms such as respiratory distress. This is of particular concern to the 15 million adults and children who have asthma. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) encourages those with asthma and other respiratory diseases to take extra precautions during the hazy, hot, and humid summer days that foster high ozone levels.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one out of every three people in the U.S is at a high risk of experiencing ozone-related health effects. Ozone in the earth's lower atmosphere is the product of the chemical reaction between sunlight and air pollutants, primarily nitric/nitrous oxides (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The primary sources of these pollutants are motor vehicles and large and small industry emissions. In the warmer summer months, ozone concentrations in the air can reach high levels, especially in more populated areas. "Everyone who breathes should be interested in the ozone. I tell all patients that when the weatherman says it's an ozone alert day, he's talking to you," comments Richard L. Wasserman, M.D., Ph.D., a practicing allergy/asthma specialist in Dallas, Texas, and Vice-Chair of the AAAAI's Public Education Committee.

For those with asthma and other respiratory problems -- who already experience breathing difficulty -- these high ozone levels can lead to further respiratory distress, and even hospitalization. At these levels, ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms such as coughing, throat irritation, and chest tightness. Lung function is reduced, air intake can feel strained, and breathing, especially outside, can become shallow, rapid, and uncomfortable.

During ozone alerts, many asthmatics have attacks that require more frequent use of medication, a doctor's care, or even hospitalization. Ozone can also increase asthmatics' sensitivity to allergens -- substances that can trigger allergy and asthma attacks. Airborne allergens can include pollens, molds, dust mites, cockroaches, and animal dander. In addition to affecting those with asthma, ozone can impact those with other chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and may increase the risk of respiratory infections.

Children are at special risk during high ozone alert days because they breathe more rapidly than adults, taking in more pollution per pound of body weight. Because their airways are smaller, they are more likely to become blocked when irritated. Children with asthma are even more likely to experience the harmful impact of high ozone levels. It is estimated that 5 million children suffer from asthma, making it the leading chronic illness of children in the U.S. "Ozone exposure is especially bad if the patient is already having some problems. It can push them over the edge and send them to the emergency room," says Dr. Wasserman.

Because of the unhealthy effects that high ozone levels have on the health of adults and children, the AAAAI encourages everyone, especially those with asthma and other respiratory disease, to take the following steps during days with high ozone levels:

  • Keep track of air quality information. During the summer ozone season, air quality data is reported daily to the public by state or local air pollution control agencies. This information is often reported as part of weather forecasts, printed in newspapers, and posted on many Web sites.

  • Avoid outdoor activity, such as yard work or exercising, when ozone levels are high. Levels of ozone tend to be the lowest in the morning around sunrise; as traffic emissions and sunlight increase, so do ozone levels, peaking in the early afternoon. Children should not play outside during peak times on those days. If you need to work or exercise outdoors, confine your activity to early morning or around dusk.

  • If possible, use indoor air conditioning, which cools and dries the air during hot, muggy summer days. Air conditioning can particularly assist those with allergies and asthma by filtering out airborne allergens such as pollens and molds so they do not enter the home.

  • If you have a child with asthma, make sure your children's camp counselors, coaches, and teachers are aware of the effects of high ozone on children and take appropriate precautions.

  • To avoid contributing to the problem, use public transportation, carpool, and encourage others to limit activities that can contribute to outdoor air pollution.

For free informational brochures on asthma and allergies or referral to an allergist in their area, patients are encouraged to call the AAAAI's Physician Referral and Information line at 800-822-2762, or visit the Academy's Web site at http://www.aaaai.org

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is the largest professional medical specialty organization in the United States representing allergists, asthma specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals, and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic disease. Allergy/immunology specialists are pediatric/internal medicine physicians who have elected an additional two years of training to become specialized in the treatment of asthma, allergy and immunologic disease. Established in 1943, the Academy has more than 5,700 members in the United States, Canada and 41 other countries.

Web site: http: //www.aaaai.org

CONTACT: Rebecca Dinan or Sarah Cox of AAAAI, 414-272-6071, media@aaaai.org


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