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Air pollutants

The air we breathe contains lots of different particles that can trigger asthma symptoms.

Air pollutants, such as cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes, release gases and particles into the atmosphere, which can irritate your airways.

Research supports that pollution plays a role in causing asthma in children and adults, as well as being a trigger that can make people's asthma symptoms worse. Two-thirds of people with asthma experience that traffic fumes make their asthma worse and 42% find that traffic fumes discourage them from walking or shopping in congested areas. And 85% of people with asthma in Hong Kong are concerned about the effect that increasing vehicle fumes will have on their and their family's health in the future.

How do air pollutants affect asthma?

There is strong evidence associating the development of asthma with residence near roads with heavy traffic and particularly with vehicles such as diesel-fuelled buses and lorries, which are the source of most particulate matter pollution. Some studies have also suggested a link with adult-onset asthma. In adults, the development of asthma is associated with exposure to traffic fumes, especially PM10 and NO2, where people live rather than at the workplace or while travelling.

Ozone can be a problem for some people. Levels are likely to be higher on hot summer days. If you think this might be a trigger for you, avoid exercising outdoors, especially in the afternoon.

Should I Be Concerned About Air Pollution in My Work Environment?

Yes, but your concern should be appropriate to the type of environment in which you work. If you work with volatile solvents, sprayed substances, powders, or known carcinogens or allergens, your potential risks are high. Your employer is required to minimize them by meeting the standards of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the EPA of the workplace.

Even if you work in what seems to be a chemical-free environment, you may still be exposed to air pollution. Older structures may contain mold spores or cockroaches, both powerful allergens. Dust mites are universal in indoor environments. And no matter how old the building, there may be hidden chemicals. New carpeting, for example, may release invisible but toxic fumes. Poorly filtered air handling systems may pour out allergens and irritants. If they are damp from handling humidity, they may actually breed mold spores. If tobacco smoking is permitted in the building, smoke may pollute your air you breathe. Reports of illness have become so repetitive at some work sites that they are said to have "Sick Building Syndrome."

Should I Be Concerned About Air Pollution in My Home?

Yes. The EPA and the American Lung Association include the home when declaring the indoor environment a "high priority public health risk." In all likelihood this is where you get your greatest exposure to allergens and irritants. They fall from out of the air and stick to surfaces like carpeting, upholstery and bedding, where their concentration grows. Surface allergens are far more numerous than airborne allergens.

Home is where you cook, eat, sleep, bathe, groom, relax and play with pets. In all of these activities your nose and mouth are dangerously close to, and may even be in direct contact with, the things that cause asthma symptoms. Soaps, cosmetics, cleaning solutions, fireplace or grill smoke, and hair spray may trigger an asthma episode as much as dander, pollinating flowers or dust mites. Neither the EPA nor OSHA regulates this environment. It is your personal responsibility to remove the causes of allergies, ventilate properly and perhaps install air filters.