Delaware’s Air Quality Threat: Know How Pollution Affects You
Despite improvements to our air quality, air pollution remains a pervasive public health threat. And even people with healthy lungs can suffer the effects.
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A Daily Struggle
In 1992, Youngblood was diagnosed with COPD, a progressive lung disease that makes it hard for her to breathe. Her condition has required her to use an oxygen tank for the past seven years.
“It’s a different lifestyle than it was 20 years ago,” Youngblood says. “There’s a lot more planning than it used to be.”
During the warm-weather months, pollution forecasts guide her daily activities. If there’s an “orange” or “red” day alert, Youngblood limits her exposure to the outdoors.
“If I don’t have to go out, I don’t,” she says. “I do a large degree of my shopping online. My husband does a lot of the shopping in the store for me, or a lot of times, he will drive me, so he can drop me right at the door of where I need to go.”
Youngblood isn’t alone. According to the American Lung Association, there are more than 36,000 adults living with COPD in Delaware. Another 68,000 adults and 17,000 children suffer from asthma.
Research has repeatedly shown that exposure to elevated ozone and particle pollution levels aggravates those conditions, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, irregular heartbeat and other symptoms.
And last July, a major Danish study linked high air pollution levels to lung cancer.
“[The study’s conclusion] was not a surprise,” says Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine with Christiana Care Health System. “It supported suppositions that we’d seen in smaller studies over the past 20 years.”
Rizzo counsels his patients to stay indoors when pollution levels are elevated. But healthy people are not immune to the effects of polluted air.
“People who have lung disease are affected by the air quality more so, but even people with healthy lungs are affected, especially if they are outdoors on those days and are doing more strenuous work,” he says.