Summer can bring more than just sunshine and swimming opportunities. In many urban areas, summer is the time of year when smog is at its worst. Smog is a form of air pollution that’s particularly hazardous on hot days.
Smog is air pollution that reduces visibility. The term “smog” was first used in the early 1900s to describe a mix of smoke and fog. The smoke usually came from burning coal. Smog was frequent in industrial areas and remains a familiar sight in cities today.
Today, most of the smog we see is photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is produced when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxides come from car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. VOCs are released from gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When sunlight hits these chemicals, they form airborne particles and ground-level ozone—or smog.
Ozone can be helpful or harmful. The ozone layer high up in the atmosphere protects us from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation. But when ozone is close to the ground, it is terrible for human health. Ozone can damage lung tissue, and it is especially dangerous to people with respiratory illnesses like asthma. Ozone can also cause itchy, burning eyes.
Smog is unhealthy for humans and animals, and it can kill plants. Smog is frequent in big cities with a lot of industry and traffic. Cities located in basins surrounded by mountains may have smog problems because the smog is trapped in the valley and cannot be carried away by the wind.
Many countries, including the United States, have created laws to reduce smog. Some rules include restrictions on what chemicals a factory can release into the atmosphere, or when the factory can release them. Some communities have “burn days” when residents can burn waste, such as leaves in their yard. These limits on chemicals released into the air reduce the amount of smog.
Smog is most common in big cities, though people living in suburban areas also need to be conscious of its dangers. If you need to pass through a metropolitan area during a family vacation or road trip, it’s also wise to be aware of smog conditions.
No matter where you live, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family on especially hot days, when smog warnings are in effect.
Smog is still a problem in many places. Everyone can do their part to reduce smog by changing a few behaviors, such as:
Drive less–Walk, bike, carpool, and use public transportation whenever possible.
Take care of the cars–Getting regular tune-ups, changing the oil on schedule, and inflating tires to the proper level can improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.
Fuel up during the cooler hours of the day-night or early morning. This prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone.
Avoid products that release high levels of VOCs–For example, use low-VOC paints.
Avoid gas-powered yard equipment, like lawnmowers. Use electric appliances instead.
Exposure to smog can lead to several different types of short-term health problems due to its ozone content. These include:
Coughing and throat or chest irritation: High levels of ozone can irritate your respiratory system, generally lasting for a few hours after you’ve been exposed to smog. However, ozone can continue to harm your lungs even after symptoms disappear.
Worsening of asthma symptoms: If you have asthma, exposure to high levels of ozone from smog can trigger asthma attacks.
Difficulty breathing and lung damage: Smog can make it feel difficult to breathe deeply, especially during exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is because of the effects of ozone on lung function.
It’s important to note that smog affects everyone differently, and some people are more susceptible to its adverse effects. Children, seniors, and people with asthma need to be especially careful on smoggy days!
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!