Your Child's Asthma and Outdoor Air Pollution

Poor air quality can be a problem for many people. And for children with asthma, air pollution can cause serious health problems. It can be a trigger for your child's asthma. As with all triggers, the key is to prevent or limit exposure as much as possible.

Two main types of air pollution affect asthma: ozone and particle pollution.

Ozone is a gas that forms when certain chemicals and toxins in the air mix with heat and sunlight. It's found in "smog," the haze you sometimes see on the horizon.

Ozone is more likely to form in warm weather. This means children are more likely to have breathing problems when playing outdoors in the summer. Ozone levels are often highest from April through October. In some parts of the country, levels may be high all year.

Particle pollution is made up of tiny pieces of dirt, smoke, soot, and other things in the air that can cause breathing problems. This type of pollution can be bad near busy roads, at rush hour, and by factories. It can also be caused by smoke from wildfires, fireplaces, or wood stoves.

Air pollution can cause breathing problems. Some symptoms include coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. Children with asthma may have more severe symptoms. They are also more likely to have an asthma attack when pollution is bad.

How you can help

Here are some things you can do to protect your child from air pollution:

  • Check the air quality index (AQI) in your area every day. The AQI is a report on the levels of common air pollution across the U.S. When the AQI in your area is 100 or higher, limit the time your child spends outdoors. You can find the AQI for your area in local newspapers, on local TV and radio stations (as part of the weather forecast), and online at the AirNow website .

  • On "ozone action days," people with asthma should stay inside if they can.

  • On other days with poor air quality, limit the time your child spends outside during the afternoon and early evening hours. This is when ozone levels are often highest. Early in the morning and after sunset are better times for outdoor play.

  • Exercise away from busy roads or industrial areas. Outside play is better in the mornings when air quality is better.

  • Use your air conditioner in hotter months if possible.

  • Don't use tools such as lawnmowers that are gas-powered when children are outside.

  • Check that your child uses their asthma medicines as directed.

Man handing boy a metered-dose inhaler with spacer and mask.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Deborah Pedersen MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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