What are the effects of Air Pollution on Allergy?


by Jim Chevalier, M.D.

Indoor and outdoor pollution is an increasing problem in society, and becomes especially important for a patient who has asthma. Maricopa county has the third highest death rate from asthma in the nation, and pollution likely contributes to the problem. A California study in 1993 showed a definite correlation between respiratory complaints and ozone/sulfate levels in the air. A 1993 study from Barcelona showed a similar relationship for sulfur dioxide and smoke. Recent studies also suggest that even very fine particles such as dust may aggravate breathing problems.

The single most important indoor pollutant is cigarette smoke. There is a very clear relationship between parental indoor smoking and childhood asthma severity. Children in a smoking environment have a 65% greater chance of developing asthma than in a nonsmoking environment. There is some evidence suggesting changes in embryonic lung development in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy or were exposed to smoke. Spouses of smokers are twice as likely to develop lunch cancer as spouses of nonsmokers. Other possible indoor triggers include cats, dogs, and dust mites.

There are some specific actions that patient with asthma or allergy can take to reduce their exposure to pollution and irritants in the environment:


  • Do not smoke in the household, even when the patient is out of the house. A totally smoke-free home environment will often have as much benefit as several medications.
  • Use air conditioning rather than open windows or evaporative cooling if possible, especially during the spring and fall pollination seasons or periods of heavy pollution.
  • Consider a HEPA filter in the bedroom or living room, or on a central air conditioning unit. Although most insurance plans will not cover a filter, it seem to dramatically reduce the indoor dust and dander concentrations.
  • Try to have as many bare surfaces in the bedroom environment as possible, minimizing heavy carpets, drapes, and stuffed animals. This will reduce the reservoir for dust, pollen and other triggers, and is surprisingly effective. Damp mop the bare floor frequently to keep the dust load down.


  • Stay indoors during pollution alerts.
  • Try not to exercise outdoors during times of heavy pollution and pollination. Pollen counts are often heaviest in the early morning.
  • Wear a face mask during periods of high pollination when you are outdoors, especially mowing or any other heavy exertion. Pollens generally are large and can be trapped by masks.• Use your automobile air conditioning with the windows rolled up, even on a cool day. This will dramatically reduce pollen and dust exposure. Set the air condition to recirculate cabin air (“Max A/C on many newer cars).

Environmental control is often ignored as a means of helping control asthma. Environmental control can often reduce the need for extra medications and reduce the severity of respiratory disease and allergies, but the benefits cannot be minimized.

Posted in: Urban Environment

Allergy and the Environment