Did you know that 99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds the World Health Organization’s safety guidelines for pollution levels? Last month, for instance, over 60 million Americans were exposed to harmful wildfire smoke. Even indoors, on any given day, around 2.4 billion people are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution in their own homes. Environmental exposures like this can disproportionately impact people with PF and other respiratory diseases.
For those living with pulmonary fibrosis (PF), maintaining good air quality is crucial for managing symptoms and promoting overall respiratory health. After all, poor air quality can exacerbate breathing difficulties and pose significant risks to individuals with PF. In this blog, we will explore the causes of poor air quality, the dangers it presents to those with PF, and provide practical tips on how to monitor and improve air quality to safeguard your lung health.
The Causes of Poor Air Quality
There are many reasons that air pollution exists. Common causes include:
- Vehicle emissions
- By-products from coal-fueled power plants
- Fumes from chemical production or industrial facilities
- Fuel oils and natural gas from heating homes
- Smoke from forest fires
The names for the major kinds of air pollutants include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Particulate matter
- Sulfur oxides
The Dangers of Poor Air Quality for People with PF
Poor air quality can lead to worsened symptoms in people with PF, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. This is because small particles in the air can enter your respiratory system, irritating your throat, penetrating deep into the lungs, and ultimately worsening respiratory symptoms. Poor air quality can also decrease lung function. Prolonged exposure to air pollutants can contribute to the decline in lung function over time, essentially worsening the progression of PF.
Here’s what the research is showing about the connection between air pollution and PF:
- Long-term exposure to air pollutants may increase the risk of developing PF in the first place. Air pollution can also accelerate lung scarring. More research on environmental exposures and PF is available here.
- Even when the cause of PF is unknown or ‘idiopathic’ (IPF), research has shown that air pollution increases the probability of patients developing chronic respiratory failure, being hospitalized due to respiratory causes, and – sadly – dying as well.
- Air pollution can increase the risk of acute exacerbation.
- Air pollutants can trigger inflammation and immune responses that aren’t conducive to healing PF.
- Especially in areas with heavy traffic and near major roads, researchers advise people to minimize exposures to air pollution, emphasizing that there is really no safe level of air pollution for patients with PF.
How to Protect Your Lungs from Poor Air Quality
- Monitor the air quality. Even if you can’t see or smell smoke in the air, it’s possible that the pollution levels are still considered dangerous to immune-compromised or at-risk individuals. There are a variety of websites and apps you can use to check the outdoor air quality, without actually stepping outside. To check pollution levels local to your area, search for the “Air Quality Index” (AQI) or visit www.airnow.gov.
- Be careful when you’re outdoors. If there’s an air quality alert, limit the amount of time you spend outside. When outdoors, wear a face mask (ideally a KN95 face mask). Additionally, try not to do strenuous activities like exercising or gardening.
- Be careful indoors too. When the air quality is poor outside, try to keep your windows and doors closed. In general, you can always improve the air quality of your home by running HEPA air purifiers, surrounding your space with houseplants, and reducing sources of allergens or irritants like perfumes or harsh chemicals. For more tips specific to the indoors, please visit this blog post.
There are a few other ways to stay informed about ways to protect your lungs:
- Visit these educational brochures and these online resources to learn more about particle pollution, ozone, and other air quality concerns.
- Post in or search the history of our Facebook group, where people with PF have already reached out for support and shared ideas to help prevent harm from outdoor pollutants (such as DIY air filters).
- Sign up for a virtual support group meetup, where you can ask for personalized advice from others with or impacted by PF.
By understanding the causes of poor air quality and its impact on pulmonary fibrosis, you can take proactive steps to protect your lungs – and fight PF!
Stay In Touch
PF NOW! hosts virtual support groups on Teams multiple times each month. Not only will you strengthen your network of connections but you’ll learn firsthand how those with PF best look after themselves. PF NOW! also has a Facebook group whose active community shares their PF journey and their tips with others. New to online support groups? Download our free step-by-step guide for online advocacy here.
Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information received from us.