You may have seen it more in recent years – the notification that air quality is low in your area. Most people know that this can mean smog and irritants are abundant in the air that day, but it goes beyond just that. There can be a serious impact from poor air quality. Knowing what the alerts mean and how to protect yourself can help maintain the health of your lungs.


As regulated by the Clean Air Act, the Air Quality Index measures ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Burning fossil fuels produces these pollutants into the air, though levels can be higher depending on the time of year and coupled with other factors such as fire. Ozone is a bigger issue in the summer, while particulate matter occurs throughout the year.


The Air Quality Index measures air quality on a level of 0 to 500, 0 being the best possible quality of air, while a score of 300 and up is hazardous and will bring about a warning for emergency conditions. The categories for air quality are good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. If you see a warning for unhealthy air quality in your area, talk to your primary care services provider to see how it might impact you.


Poor air quality can typically bring on conditions like asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s been linked to heart attacks, arrhythmia, and strokes. Anyone is at risk for the effects of air pollution, but especially children, senior adults, and active adults (they are breathing more often and heavier due to exercise).


NeighborMD, who provides mso services, recommends staying indoors as much as possible on days when air quality is low, using air conditioning to regulate air (even when inside a vehicle), and using a HEPA filter in your home to regulate particulate matter and allergens. If you need to go outside, opt for a green space like a park and avoid high traffic areas, especially in busy times like rush hour.