Living With Breathing Problems

For those with healthy lungs, an ozone alert may not be a big deal. But it's a whole different story for patients with asthma and other breathing problems.

With medication, Daniel Powers can keep his asthma under control. But when the air is thick with ozone particles, breathing isn't always so easy.

He describes, "It just actually gets a little tight, like right here in my chest, and to take a deep breath, it's a little harder than just normally breathing."

Studies have shown increased emergency hospital admissions for acute asthma as well as the need for fast-acting medications.

Dr. Jason White, an asthma specialist, explains, "The ozone gets into your lungs, and it's an irritant that causes the lining of your lungs to become inflamed. That causes your lungs to clamp down to try to keep the pollutant out of the lungs."

Since you're getting ozone in your lungs instead of clean oxygen, patients also experience shortness of breath.

The ozone levels can get so high here in the Ohio River Basin that many people with severe asthma choose to move away, preferring the high altitudes found out west. As for the patients left behind, there are plenty of things we can do to help them breathe easier.

Stay out of drive-thrus, wait until after 6 p.m. to mow the lawn or put gas in your car, and limit driving all together if you can.

"Anything that we can do to keep the air clean, that's going to help those people who really are struggling - older people, children, asthmatics. We all know people in those categories," Dr. White instructs.

They don't just suffer on steamy days. Studies show subtle effects of ozone exposure may linger for as many as three weeks in some patients.

Approximately 60-percent of asthma attacks are caused by environmental allergens and irritants such as ozone, smoke, pollen and animal dander.

For more information, visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.