In June 2023, WNY experienced a week of “air quality alerts”. You may have noticed the hazy skies and a smell of campfire smoke in the air. While this kind of phenomenon is more commonly found on the west coast, it was a first for many in the Buffalo/Niagara region.

Air pollution is measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using a color coded system called the Air Quality Index (AQI). The WNY region experienced alarming levels of air pollution, reaching “Very Unhealthy” levels of concern on the Air Quality Index, meaning the entire population was likely to be affected. Long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to serious health complications, but studies show that even short-term exposure can be fatal.

How Harmful is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is hazardous to us all, and can have both acute and chronic effects on respiratory health. Poor air quality can trigger asthma, cause lung inflammation, and increase hospital admissions in people suffering from lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can even affect your brain and heart health.

“Respiratory issues can arise from short term and long term exposure to air pollutants, included spending too much time outdoors during bad air quality days, like some of the days we had due to the wild fires in Canada. Even people with good lung function can discover that on these days it may seem harder to breath, trigger asthma attacks and or cause coughing and wheezing. Keeping our lungs in shape by daily exercising (i.e. taking a short little walk), knowing your triggers for situations causing shortness of breath (i.e. avoiding harsh chemicals, irritants, and allergens), and also getting a baseline with a Pulmonary Function Test would be very helpful for your health. Catholic Health offers pulmonary rehabilitation classes, where we teach patients how to expand their lungs and fully exhale by using incentive spirometers, blowing into harmonicas, coughing techniques, and learning different breathing techniques.”

Kristen Friend

Respiratory Therapist, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo

Exposure to poor air quality can cause coughing, throat irritation, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and chest pain. Women who are pregnant, children with asthma, and individuals with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease are more at risk than others.

Long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with many chronic health conditions, including:

  • Dementia
  • Lung cancer
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Severe asthma

How Can I Protect Myself from Air Pollutants?

Regularly checking the EPA’s website allows you to track the air quality of your location by entering the zip code. Experts also recommend keeping medications like inhalers on hand and making sure they are not expired. When pollutants are high, stay indoors as much as possible with the doors and windows closed.

Indoor air filters such as an HVAC system or portable air purifier can also help keep your air clean. If you have pets, try to keep them indoors as much as possible as they suffer from many of the same lung conditions that humans do.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

Experiencing a mild cough, dry throat and itchy eyes are normal, but if you begin experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing or wheezing, it’s time to seek medical help. The respiratory therapy team at Catholic Health can evaluate and treat a wide variety of conditions affecting the lungs. Our therapists work closely with the rest of our care team of doctors and nurses, taking a comprehensive approach to care.

Our respiratory specialists provide each patient with timely, personalized treatment, so they can recover faster and avoid hospital readmission. Correcting your breathing problems and improving your quality of life is our priority.

If you are currently experiencing respiratory issues and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, or for more information on pulmonary rehabilitation, call (716) 706-2112.

Find a Specialist Near You
Call (716) 706-2112

Find a Specialist Near You
Call (716) 706-2112