As scenic as Southern California can often be, residents of Coronado and elsewhere know that there are some days when the air quality severely cuts down on how wonderful everything looks. Poor air quality can make it hard to breathe, hard to travel, hard to perform activities, especially those receiving home health care.
That sentiment is felt by many employees of Accredited Home Care, which has been providing home health services to thousands of seniors from San Diego to northern Los Angeles since 1980.
That means we’ve seen days where the skies are clear and beautiful, and days where everything is a hazy and that nasty brown color that you can taste and smell. We’ve also seen days when the air quality is so bad that people in poor health are advised to stay indoors when possible, or at least not spend too much time outside.
Many of our clients definitely fit in this higher risk area, either due to age, health concerns, or both. Seniors are considered higher risk than other age groups, and many of those who benefit from home health care also have underlying health conditions which can be aggravated by spending too much time in poor air conditions.
These warnings are all based on past studies of air quality, whether it’s smoke, smog, or other environmental factors.
Sometimes poor air is due to natural occurrences like smoke from forest fires or ash from volcanic eruptions. Other times, human contributions such as smog or industrial pollutants can play a role. Prolonged periods of high temperatures and not a lot of wind, such as during summer heatwaves, can also cause dirty air to stagnate.
Whatever the cause, human health can be weakened by being out too long in this type of environment.
According to AirNow.gov, a federal agency that monitors and shares information about air quality, seniors are less likely to deal well with environmental hazards than younger people. This can lead to more cases of difficulty breathing and lung problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Plus it can also aggravate existing health conditions including stroke, heart disease, and lung diseases.
Poor air quality can also lead to more visits to health providers, emergency room or hospital visits, plus a need for more medication.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to damage from fine particulates in the air. Inhaling too many of these can be linked to all sorts of health problems, everything from causing bronchitis to heart attacks. Any size of these can also influence cardiac health or respiratory diseases.
Ozone can also influence health.
The Mayo Clinic concurs and warns people against participating in aerobic activities outdoors on days when air quality is poor. This type of exercise involves inhaling more oxygen than standard activity and also breathing it deeper into your lungs.
This can include walking, running, or more intense physical activity, and goes for several age groups including the very young and the very old.
For those who do want to go outside for peace of mind and even for regular exercise, it’s actually not a bad idea, provided adequate protection is utilized.
The MayoClinic suggests preventive steps such as:
- Don’t be active near roads. Exhaust from cars can affect the air and affect you if you’re near it over a long period of time. The health organization suggests being at least a quarter of a mile or 400 meters of a road. This is also a smart move, safety-wise.
- Schedule your outside visits. This involves keeping an eye on any local or state air quality advisories or warnings and planning your activities, such as a walk. Weather watchers often say that the highest levels of air contamination are around mid-day when there are a lot of people out as well as temperatures are at their highest. So looking for other times to be outside such as the early morning or early evening might be safer.
- Be OK with staying indoors temporarily. Those with poor health risks usually are all right with preserving their health by staying indoors if outside conditions are deemed dangerous. There are still opportunities for exercise and general activity that can be done. People who are further concerned about air quality can wear a breath mask, such as at the gym.
This spring is a good time for people to learn more about air quality and choose good health practices. Though most communities are requiring people to keep their distance from each other, there’s still plenty of open space to explore and enjoy.
That’s part of the appeal of Air Quality Awareness Week, which runs May 4-8. Several federal agencies are partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency to educate the community about air quality in general as well as encourage them to check the Air Quality Index on a daily basis.
People are also invited to visit the event’s site to learn more about how your health can be affected by air quality, everything from wildfire smoke to air quality in other parts of the world.
Seniors and their caregivers will enjoy learning about some of the resources available to determine safe levels outside as well as what factors can affect the air in the first place.