The link between increased air pollution exposure and increased risk of death, lung cancer, developing COPD and/or asthma is well-established. Additionally, short term exposure to air pollution has been associated with increased risk of hospitalization for COPD exacerbations, asthma exacerbations, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, and even strokes.
The best way to prevent inversions is to avoid creating air pollution – avoid idling, limit driving as much as possible, and avoid all wood burning. But once the inversion is here, here are five steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Stay indoors In general, the indoor air quality is better than outdoor air quality. The best way to protect yourself during inversions is to stay indoors.
- Make sure your indoor furnace air filter is replaced regularly and your furnace is functioning properly. In order to make sure your indoor air quality is as healthy as possible, make sure your home is smoke-free and your furnace and its filter are serviced and changed regularly.
- Exercise indoors. When we exercise, we breathe deeper and faster. We inhale more particulates from the air deeper into our lungs. So while exercise is good for us, it’s important to exercise indoors during periods of inversion to limit air pollution exposure.
- Take all your prescribed medications. Many diseases are exacerbated (or flared) by air pollution. Not only respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD, but others such as heart problems and strokes. If you have chronic health problems, it is important that they be optimally controlled during these high risk periods. So, make sure you are taking your asthma, COPD, heart, cholesterol, blood pressure and other medications as prescribed by your doctor. If you are having a flare of a chronic condition, be sure to let your doctor know for an individual management plan. If your condition flares predictably during these periods, talk to your doctor about an action plan for dealing with these flares at your visit before the inversion happens.
- Avoid idling, and all wood burning; limit driving if possible. Do your part to try to limit the air pollution accumulating for all of us.
- Using masks or air filters. While simple surgical masks do not prevent particulate exposure, the more complex respirators “N95” masks and such can limit particulates. However, these masks increase the resistance to air flow and make it more difficult to breathe. Thus, they are not practical for anything other than very short term exposures.
At Intermountain Medical Center, we are trying to find out whether a home stand-alone very high efficiency “HEPA” air filter can help reduce respiratory symptoms during inversions. We’re conducting a randomized controlled clinical trial to determine whether use of a high-efficiency personal (HEPA) filter reduces respiratory symptoms in at-risk patients during inversions.
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