"It's like trying to breathe through a tiny, tiny straw," said Samantha Kamen. Not even a regular straw, but like one of those little red coffee stirrers.
This is how Kamen, marketing and communications manager for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, describes an asthma attack. It's a condition she's had since she was young. "It's a really scary feeling."
One of the top causes of an asthma attack? Air pollution. And it doesn't just affect asthma sufferers. More than half of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. And it's been associated with heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory problems.
Luckily, it's not a hopeless cause. There are lots of things people can do to help limit their exposure and reduce air pollution in their own communities. Here are 10 of them.
1. Know thy enemy with some daily recon.
2. Know which way the wind is blowing.
Turns out weather forecasts don't just tell you rain or shine, they can also predict the wind. Check out your local weather station or weather.com for wind forecasts. If you know you're about get a face full of freeway exhaust, it might be time to close those windows.
3. Opt for the morning workout.
Your lungs might thank you for not hitting that snooze. One of the most common components of air pollution, ozone, tends to peak during warm, sunny afternoons. Ozone: good up high in the atmosphere, bad in your lungs. If you're planning on exercising, consider taking advantage of the morning's relatively cleaner air or do indoors activities instead.
4. Bundle your chores and trips together.
If air pollution is bad on any particular day, try to keep trips outside to a minimum by bundling chores and errands into one trip. Instead of going for a walk in the morning, then to the dry cleaners in the afternoon, then to the store to pick up milk in the evening, one trip out can limit your exposure. (And psst: See #7 below. Driving around less is great news for the air we breathe too.)
5. Keep those pollutants out of your home.
Why bring trouble home with you? Don't smoke indoors or burn trash or wood. Buy electric power and lawn tools when you can, rather than gas-powered ones. Be aware of things like scented candles. Those fragrances might smell nice, but they can sometimes dump pollutants into the air you breathe.
If you need a little extra help getting the toxins out of your home, you can purchase high-efficiency air filters. They catch a lot of the floating particles that make up smog and other forms of air pollution, purifying the air in your house.
6. Enjoy the great outdoors.
One way to get away from man-made pollution is to get out of the city altogether. Maybe instead of hitting up a city park for a picnic, find a nice spot in the countryside instead.
Need some ideas? Check out the National Park Services' Find a Park feature.
7. Ditch the car.
Cars are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution. Travel by carpool or public transportation, whenever possible. Fewer cars on the road mean fewer emissions, after all. If you live in a place where you have to drive, keep your engine up to snuff, tires filled, and don't idle (and ask your local schools not to idle the buses too).
8. Change those lightbulbs.
Not only will you be able to see better at night, but replacing old lightbulbs and refrigerators with energy efficient ones means a lighter load at the power plant. If it's a coal or gas-fired plant, that means less emissions. Plus, it'll save you some money. Win-win.
9. Finally, encourage your city or state to join in as well.
Call your city's mayor or state representative and help push for policies that will cut down on air pollution. The World Health Organization notes that, unfortunately, many of the biggest sources of air pollution, like industrial factories or freeways, are really out of an individual person's hands. That's why it's important for cities and states to take action and encourage things like mass transit, clean energy, and better urban planning.
*Takes deep breath*
We can feel the air getting cleaner already!