Air Quality: Impact on Health

Interview conducted on Mundo Boston’s Coffee Hour in the segment “Un minuto de salud”.

“Welcome to “Un minuto de salud”! In our coffee space, we are dedicated to addressing health issues affecting our Latino community.

In this interview, we will discuss topics relevant to our community, such as chronic diseases, prevention and how to maintain a good quality of life.

Join us as we explore practical tips and gain valuable information for our health.

Jossie Carreras Tartak, MD, MBA – Emergency Medicine Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital is a physician currently completing her residency in Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Originally from Puerto Rico, she attended New York University’s Stern School of Business as an undergraduate and then attended the University of Pennsylvania for medical school.

While in medical school, she also completed an MBA at the Wharton School of Business.

How Are We as Humans Affected by the Weather and the Environment?

JC: Smoke is a mixture of chemicals and particles, so some of these particles are too small.

They are known as fine particles or PM2.5 and these particles are too small to be filtered by our respiratory system.

Generally, when one breathes, small particles that are in the air are filtered through the nose, through the mouth and through the respiratory system before reaching the lungs.

But these PM2.5 are too small for our respiratory system to filter out.

So these particles reach the lungs and can become irritated and cause respiratory infections, as well as inflammation of the lungs.

Who Are the People Who Are Most Vulnerable to That, and Who Do We Need to Pay Extra Attention to?

JC: The most vulnerable people are people at both extremes of age.

Both children because their lungs are developing and the elderly, because their lungs are fragile.

We also think a lot about people with respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

This is also known as emphysema, as these diseases predispose people to suffer from both respiratory infections and inflammation that can affect their lungs.

Is This a Condition that When We See Symptoms We Should Go to the Doctor Immediately or Can We Take Something at Home? What Is the Alert Level and When Do We Have to Go to The Emergency?

JC: The symptoms that can be caused by high levels of air pollution can be coughing, difficulty breathing, can be asthma attacks if one suffers from asthma.

They can also cause eye irritation, itchy throat, runny nose and chest pain.

I would say that when it gets to the level that when you have a difficulty in breathing, to the level that you can’t do your daily tasks or chest pain, you should go to the emergency room.

What Can We Do to Prevent and What Steps Can We Take to Help Our Health in this Regard?

JC: The first thing is to be aware of the air quality index or AQI, a scale from zero to 500, where zero to 50 is normal.

From 50 to 100 is already a little polluted and may slightly affect sensitive groups such as asthmatics and people with chronic lung disease.

Any value above 100 is considered unhealthy and from 100 to 150 may severely affect sensitive groups.

But from 150 onwards it is considered a threat to the general public and already the general public can feel the symptoms of air pollution.

Air Quality: How Can You Know the Level of Pollution?

JC: usually the same phones or smartphones like the iPhone, in the same weather climate report, it has the air quality index metrics.

But you can also look them up on Weather Channel or on the news, they report it. But on the weather Channel if you look it up online you can also see it.

The normal number, it’s 50.

The most important thing is to stay indoors and stay with the windows closed if you see the air quality index is elevated and please don’t forget the pets they suffer too.

What Is Happening in Canada, Does That Also Affect, Is That Part of this Conversation?

JC: That’s right, to give you an idea the air quality index in New York reached 405 above 100 is already unhealthy it reached 405 at its worst.

Does Wearing a Mask Help Counteract the Effects?

JC: It depends on which mask, because remember that these particles are very fine and the regular mask will not filter them, but it is better than nothing, but it is not 100% effective.

The best prevention is to stay inside and circulate the air inside and you can also buy air filters.

Air quality

The Link Between Air Quality and Health

Clean air is a fundamental requirement for healthy living, but its importance often goes unnoticed.

The quality of the air we breathe has a significant impact on our well-being, as long-term exposure to polluted air poses serious risks to human health.

The recent devastating wildfire event in Canada has highlighted the urgent need to address air quality issues.

Air Quality: Breathing Easier for Better Health

Air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, contains harmful particles and gases that can have detrimental effects on our health.

Long-term exposure to polluted air has been associated with respiratory diseases, cardiovascular problems and even higher mortality rates.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emitted from sources such as vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions and forest fires can penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream.

This can trigger inflammation and may contribute to the development of chronic diseases.

In addition, air pollution is particularly harmful to vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.

Children exposed to polluted air may experience poor lung development and a higher incidence of asthma.

Similarly, the elderly are at increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular complications due to their weakened immune systems.

Mitigating impacts and protecting air quality

Addressing air quality concerns requires both individual and collective efforts.

Here are some proactive measures that can help mitigate the impact of air pollution and safeguard our health:

  • Indoor air quality management: Ensuring adequate ventilation in indoor spaces is vital to reduce the concentration of indoor air pollutants. Open windows and doors whenever possible to promote fresh air circulation.
  • Allergen control: Dust mites, pet dander, mold spores and other allergens can worsen symptoms for people with chronic illnesses. Regularly vacuum, dust and wipe surfaces to minimize allergen buildup. Use allergen-proof covers for bedding, wash bedding frequently, and keep indoor humidity levels below 50% to prevent mold growth.
  • Smoke-free environment: Smoke, whether from tobacco or wood sources, is very harmful to respiratory health. Avoid smoking indoors, install smoke detectors, and consider using electric or gas alternatives to traditional fireplaces.
  • Reduce chemical exposure: many cleaning products, air fresheners and household chemicals release compounds that can trigger respiratory symptoms, opt for natural cleaning products and keep houseplants to purify the air naturally.

Personal Protective Measures

  • Avoid outdoor air pollution: Monitor local air quality reports and stay indoors when pollution levels are high, especially during peak traffic or industrial activity. Plan outdoor activities during times when pollution is lower, such as early in the morning or late at night.
  • Regular checkups and action plans: Schedule regular checkups with your health care provider to assess the status of your chronic disease.

Collaboration and Community Support

  • Join local support groups or online communities where people with similar chronic illnesses share experiences and knowledge. These groups can provide valuable information on coping, coping strategies and emotional support.
  • Workplace accommodations: If you have a chronic illness, work with your employer to create a healthy work environment. Request appropriate accommodations, such as air purifiers, avoiding chemical exposures, or flexible work schedules during times of high pollution.
  • Participate in advocacy efforts by supporting initiatives aimed at improving air quality standards. Join organizations that focus on air quality issues and participate in activities that raise awareness about the impact of pollution on people with chronic diseases.

By implementing air quality measures people can reduce their exposure to pollutants. Measures that can be implemented are:

  • Management of indoor environments,
  • Use of personal protective measures,
  • Seeking the support of communities.

It is essential to create environments that prioritize clean air for a healthier life.

The information contained on the My Health Fair website should not be construed as professional advice or medical recommendations.

Readers should direct any questions regarding their personal health care to licensed physicians or other appropriate health care professionals.