While we can't control the weather and climate change makes it harder to predict, we do have some tips for things you can do to help you breathe easier and reduce your contribution to fossil fuels.
1) Keep those allergens outside
Allergens and respiratory irritants are basically tiny particles like pollen, mold spores, pet dander, dust, and bits of black carbon floating around in the air. For those who suffer from allergies (30% of adults and 40% of kids), this means coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes. For those who have asthma, these little specks could have you reaching for the inhaler, rushing to an emergency room, or worse. You can keep those specks at bay by washing your hands and face or taking a shower when you get home, doing laundry regularly, and keeping your pets clean. Some air conditioners, purifiers, and vacuums come with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) and activated carbon filters that can grab more of those little buggers out of the air and carpets. HEPA filters catch teeny tiny particles smaller than your eyes can see, while activated carbon filters absorb chemicals like VOC's and odors. Using a purifier and a HEPA filter will catch up to 99.97% of the particles that might be entering your home through the air your breathe - but even adding just one to your home will make a huge difference. There are a variety of options from stand alone units like window air conditioners and tabletop purifiers to whole house filtration systems that can be a part of your heating and cooling system. Pick the option that works best for your health and your home - just be sure to clean or replace your filters regularly.
2) Stay indoors or limit outdoor time on air quality alert days
A recent study estimates that the average American is exposed to so much air pollution that it's like smoking nearly a half a cigarette per day. If you want to know if it's safe to go outside, there a bunch of apps to help you figure it out. Most weather apps that come standard on your phone include alerts about air quality in your town. And, the Shit! I smoke app (App Store or Google Play) will tell you how the pollution level in your town today equals to the number of "cigarettes you smoked". The apps use the air quality index or AQI to report on how clean or polluted the air is and if it is hazardous to your health. On the scale, anything from 0-50 is safe for everyone, 300-500 is hazardous for everyone, and anything in between is harmful to sensitive individuals like people with asthma or other respiratory issues. It's something to be aware of if you are pregnant or have kids. While we know kids love to run around outside and get out all their pent up energy, kids breath faster and their bodies are still developing, so it is especially important to limit outdoor time on high alert days. It's a great excuse to break out the puzzles and board games, build an indoor campsite or have a dance party to get them moving. Exposure to PM2.5, really tiny specks of dirt and dust smaller than a strand of hair, during pregnancy has also been linked to pre-term and low-birth weight babies and learning and cognitive disabilities of children. The AQI doesn't include pollen, but most weather apps and local weather reports include an alert for high pollen days too, which while not as dangerous for those without allergies or asthma, can still be pretty annoying.
3) Kick the fossil fuel habit
We can all do our part to keep climate change (and allergy season!) from going from bad to worse. And, as an added bonus, it makes our neighborhood air healthier.
Three tips for reducing your consumption of fossil fuels are to:
1. Limit household energy use when you can and ask your local utility if your energy can be sourced from renewables like solar and wind. If they say yes, flip the switch to renewables! And if not, ask them to make it happen. They won't supply renewables if there's no demand, so let them know that's what you want. An easy way to limit household energy usage is to plug things into a power strip and flip the power strip off when you leave for the day or have it on an automatic timer. That way things like your TV, phone charger, and wifi router aren't eating any extra energy throughout the day when they aren't being used.
2. Combine car trips (like doing all your errands in an afternoon instead of one a day), carpool, or take public transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution. Walking or riding a bike when you can is an even better way to improve the health of the planet and yourself while you're at it.
3. Planting trees and gardens have also shown to improve air quality
by reducing pollution and mitigate the urban heat island effect. Plus, they look pretty and can provide food if you go for something like a citrus tree or tomato plant.