Pollution, Smog and Air Quality
Los Angeles is a city notorious for its smog and air pollution. Generated in part by endless traffic and the use of fossil fuel, smog and other pollutants contribute to poor air quality. And poor air quality may exacerbate allergy symptoms.
Remember the unforgettable gridlocked opening of the eponymous, La La Land? Unfortunately, the screen very much reflects the reality of the city, making the life of people with Los Angeles allergies that much worse.
While Los Angeles’s air quality has in fact improved over the last two decades, it still remains one of the most polluted cities in the United States. Poor air quality in Los Angeles has historically been due to air pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency including particulate matter, ground-level ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.
These pollutants are of particular importance because of their potential to cause health problems in humans and damage the environment.
Due to climate change, record-breaking wildfires are also now a leading pollutant in Los Angeles and Southern California as well.
The main sources of air pollution remain cars and trucks especially diesel-use vehicles, fires, windblown dust from roads and construction and other vehicles such as construction and farm equipment.
Smog, that foggy low hanging haze that leads to decreased visibility of the skyline, is synonymous with Los Angeles air quality.
Smog is basically ground-level ozone and is made when sunlight combines with pollutants generated by car exhaust, coal power plants, factories and other chemicals.
Ozone at higher levels of the atmosphere actually protects us from the sun’s UV rays, but ozone should not exist at ground level, and there it may become harmful to health.
At ground level, ozone-created smog can cause chronic cough, bronchitis, irritant cough and inflammation that can both trigger and worsen allergies and respiratory illnesses like asthma.
Particulate matter is small particles that are produced by vehicle exhaust, fuel combustion, power plants, wood burning, wildfires and other sources.
The small particles can lodge deep into the respiratory tract and contribute to an inflammatory cascade worsening allergies, asthma and coughs and trigger bronchitis (among other issues).
Nitrogen oxides are gases produced by fuel combustion and vehicle emissions and other sources. Sunlight combining with nitrogen oxides leads to the formation of ozone. Exposure to nitrogen oxides has been associated with worsening respiratory conditions.
When lead is released into the environment it contaminates the air. Vehicles with leaded gasoline were once the leading source of lead emissions in Los Angeles, but this has decreased with the phasing out of leaded gasoline.
Today lead emissions in Los Angeles most likely come from recreational vehicles, farm and construction machinery, lawn and garden equipment, boats, and trains, which use lead-containing fuel.
Like other pollutants, carbon monoxide is a gas that forms when fossil fuels are burned. Motor vehicles are the single largest source of carbon monoxide emissions. Other major sources of carbon monoxide include non-road equipment and fires.
Climate change has led to unprecedented wildfires in the western United States, with particulate matter from wildfires becoming a major pollutant and health concern in Los Angeles and Southern California.
A recent study from Stanford University and UC San Diego found that the concentration of tiny, lung-damaging pollutants known as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) that are generated by wildfire smoke roughly doubled between 2006 and 2018.
When wildfires are active, effects can be felt hundreds of miles away in adjacent states. So for people in Los Angeles living in the immediate vicinity of an active wildfire, the inhalation of PM2.5 and carbon monoxide is inevitable and can lead to serious health issues.
A study from 2007, a year of devastating wildfires in Southern California, found that during times of active wildfire there were increased visits to the emergency room for respiratory symptoms including shortness of breath and asthma exacerbations.
Studies have also shown that high ozone levels are very much tied to worsening asthma. In fact, times of peak air pollution in Los Angeles have actually been associated with increases in asthma emergency room visits and hospitalizations, particularly in children.
Los Angeles’ unique mix of intense sunlight, heat, pollutants and allergens creates a perfect storm for pollution that can impact health.
Asthma is an allergic condition where the lungs’ airways become inflamed and obstructed making it difficult to breathe. It is often triggered by both environmental pollutants, weather changes, heat, cold and humidity and allergens like seasonal tree pollen or year-round dust mite animal dander. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing and cough, which is often worse at night.
A 2006 study found that asthma rates in California are rising and 4.5 million adults, adolescents and children suffer from asthma, which is an increase from 4 million affected in 2001.
Many epidemiological studies have also observed a link between poor air quality and rising respiratory conditions including asthma, exemplifying how Los Angeles allergies are exacerbated by the city’s heat, humidity and ambient pollutants like smoke and smog.
Bronchitis, like asthma, is an inflammatory condition of the lung airways. Bronchitis tends to be more chronic with a prolonged cough. Think of that cough after a cold or virus that just hangs around forever!
Bronchitis can often occur when asthma is uncontrolled, or there is an upper respiratory tract infection or in the setting of excessive triggers such as seasonal allergens, intense heat humidity and cold or irritants again like smoke and smog.
Consequently, people who suffer from Los Angeles allergies are also more at risk of bronchitis due to the city’s environmental triggers which can linger and are often beyond their control.
Allergy sufferers in Los Angeles have the double whammy of typical allergens like seasonal pollens and grasses mixed with the persistent air pollutants that can intensify during times of heat and humidity.
This means that asthma and allergy can very much go hand in hand in Los Angeles and lead to complications such as bronchitis and sinusitis simply because of the additional negative impact of poor air quality.
Allergy and asthma can be severe in LA, but being proactive can help prevent and decrease symptoms.
Track the Los Angeles air quality index and pollen counts to start. Similarly, be aware of the air quality in your workplace and home, you may not realize you are being exposed to indoor allergens such as mold, or animals such as roach or rodents that can trigger chronic allergy and breathing issues.
Once you begin to have a better understanding of your asthma and allergy triggers, you will be better able to protect your own health.
Invest in a HEPA-certified air purifier in your home to help monitor air quality and filter out pollutants. Wear a mask on days of high humidity, heat and pollen counts and poor air quality to protect yourself from inhalation of triggering elements.
Before going outside to garden, exercise or walk, check the air quality index and take appropriate steps to either avoid being outside for prolonged periods on days with poor air quality or wear a mask and then shower when you get home.
Maintaining good health is essential to the prevention of the long-term effects of pollutants. This includes adequate sleep, hydration, exercise and nutrition.
Daily supplements like vitamin D and C can be key to the maintenance of immunity.
Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke is critical to strong respiratory health.
Additionally, respiratory infections can be prevented by frequent hand washing especially during times of peak disease spread such as flu season.
Health maintenance is also essential to optimal baseline respiratory health. This includes seeing your doctor, being up to date with your vaccinations and screening tests and taking your regular allergy and asthma medications.
Regular visits with asthma/allergy specialists such as those at Curex will help keep exacerbations at bay even in the face of the irritating effects of air pollution.
A Curex specialist can help you identify triggers for your asthma and allergies. This will allow you to be proactive in avoiding those situations where your symptoms may worsen.
Additionally, you can have an action plan ready with medications ready to go either as maintenance or as needed for exacerbations and symptoms.
If you have allergies and asthma and live in Los Angeles, you may require over-the-counter and prescription medications to help control symptoms.
Over-the-counter allergy medications include antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, etc.), steroid nasal sprays (e.g., Flonase, etc.) and antihistamine eye drops. These medications can provide short-term symptom relief by treating the body’s response to allergic reactions.
Prescription medications include asthma inhalers and pills and oral and topical steroids that treat the underlying inflammation that leads to symptoms.
These days the allergy aisle is overrun with allergy remedies. Checking in with a Curex specialist can help you efficiently determine what's right for you.
Allergy immunotherapy works by building your body's resistance to your specific allergy. Over time, this changes your body's reaction to the allergen and reduces its effects.
Two types of allergy immunotherapy are currently available, subcutaneous immunotherapy (often called allergy shots) and sublingual immunotherapy, administered orally, underneath the tongue.
Both types of immunotherapy can permanently reduce allergy symptoms, sometimes within a few months.