Air pollution is dangerous to public health. Therefore, it is the government’s responsibility to measure and inform the public on the air quality in a specific area at a particular time. An air quality index (AQI) is a tool used by government agencies to measure an area’s pollution level and predict the future.
The air quality standard is different for each country. Therefore, the air quality index differs as well. High air quality index means more risk to public health. Aside from monitoring how clean the air is, the government uses AQI to address the health effects of the prevailing air quality to the public and offer advice on protecting themselves.
Types of Pollutants
Not all air contaminants are measured using the air quality index. Most countries monitor pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and monoxide, carbon, sulfur dioxide, particulates, and ground-level ozone. Some of the significant pollutants measured are:
● Sulfur Dioxide
Sulfur dioxide is mostly found in industrial power plants and is produced by burning oil fuels and coals that contain sulfur. Usually, our nasal passages filter out this irritant gas, but some physical activities make you breathe through the mouth, enabling sulfur dioxide to enter your respiratory system. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
● Carbon Monoxide
When carbon is not completely burned, it produces carbon monoxide. This odorless gas is commonly emitted by wildfires, industrial plants, and vehicles. Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to chest pains and flu-like symptoms. Confusion, blurred vision, and dizziness are among the side effects of exposure to high-level carbon monoxide.
● Particulate Matter
Solid and liquid particles in small sizes can get into the lungs and cause respiratory diseases. Some smaller sizes can enter the bloodstream by penetrating deeper through the lungs. These particles are mostly carried by dust in the air. It can cause fatigue, palpitations, wheezing, including coughing, and has been linked to heart and lung diseases and death.
● Ground-Level Ozone
Generally, the ozone is a protective gas found in the Earth’s atmosphere. It acts as a shield against exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. A lower ozone layer (called the ground-level ozone) is formed when two pollutants create a chemical reaction to sunlight. Exposure to the reaction may result in malfunctioning of the lungs, chest pain and tightness, coughing, and can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases.
Protecting Yourself from Poor High AQI Levels
High air quality index is hazardous to your health. People with heart and lung diseases, including senior citizens and children, are the most at risk when the air quality index level rises. The following are some of the ways to protect yourself when the air quality index level is high.
● Lower Activity Levels
Activities that require you to breathe deeper and faster or force you to breathe through the mouth should be avoided. These activities will increase your risk of inhaling pollutants.
● Eliminate Sources of Pollution Indoors
Plants make great air purifiers. If you do not fancy plants, keeping your house clean all the time is enough. Avoid burning wood or incense, and minimize smoking.
● Air Conditioners
Staying indoors, especially in a room with filtered air, reduces the amount of pollution you breathe in. An air conditioner removes air contaminants like dust and other particles through its filter and air handler. Some air conditioners with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are more efficient in trapping allergens from the air.
The efficiency of the air conditioner depends on how well it is cleaned and maintained. Although filters can be easily cleaned, you should consult skilled personnel to clean the evaporator coils and other systems. Regular maintenance checks done by professionals are also essential to keep your AC’s in its best working condition.
The air condition in your area could change quickly, so always check with your local government. AQI levels in specific areas may also be checked on the internet. Most local and national media platforms provide air quality reports daily. There are many ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of a high air quality index. You may also consult your doctor for more advice, especially if you have an underlying health problem.
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