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How to protect yourself from air pollution

A hand pushing away a box of cigarettes.

You may think that with so many cars and factories polluting the air, there is little you can do to protect yourself. But guess what? There are many ways you can help protect yourself — and others — from air pollution! You can take some control over the air you breathe.

Protecting yourself from indoor air pollutants

You can help protect the quality of the air inside your home or car. This is especially important if you have asthma – dust mites, mold, and the other “triggers” talked about here can cause an asthma attack. The following are ways you can protect yourself from indoor air pollutants.

  1. Get rid of dust mites. Have you ever heard of dust mites? Dust mites are relatives of the spider. They are too small to see without a microscope. Dust mites eat skin cells shed by people, and they like warm, humid environments. They are pretty much everywhere. You can get rid of them by:
    • Washing sheets once a week in hot water
    • Keeping stuffed toys off of your bed
    • Washing your stuffed toys in hot water often
    • Vacuuming carpets and furniture regularly (if you have asthma, stay out of the room while it is being vacuumed)
    • Using a dust-proof mattress cover on your bed
  2. Get rid of mold and mildew. Mold and mildew can also make asthma worse. You can get rid of mold and mildew by:
    • Washing mold and mildew off of hard surfaces and letting them dry all the way
    • Fixing leaky plumbing. Make sure that wet areas are dry within 24 – 48 hours to prevent mold growth. (You will need to talk to your mom or dad about this one.)
    • Using a fan or opening a window when showering, cooking, or using the dishwasher
  3. Keep pets out of sleeping areas. If you have asthma or allergies, do not let your pets sleep where you sleep.
  4. Keep bugs out of the kitchen. Cockroaches can trigger asthma attacks. You can keep them out of the kitchen by:
    • Putting all food in sealed containers
    • Washing dishes after every meal
    • Storing trash in sealed bags
    • Eating only in one room of the house (for example, the kitchen or the dining room)
  5. Stay away from secondhand smoke. If you have problems breathing, tell friends and family that they cannot smoke around you.
  6. Get a carbon monoxide (CO) detector and a radon detector for your home. CO and radon are colorless, odorless, and tasteless gases that can harm you. Talk to your parents about getting a CO detector and a radon detector for your home. You can buy one at your local hardware store. While you are at it, be sure you have working smoke detectors in your house, as well!
  7. Never run a car or lawnmower in a closed garage. Also, make sure that car and truck tail pipes are not clogged with snow or leaves. This could cause a deadly build-up of carbon monoxide.
  8. Never sleep in a closed room with a gas or kerosene space heater. This, too, could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Protecting yourself from outdoor air pollutants

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from outdoor air pollution:

  1. Pay attention to the Air Quality Index (AQI). Be careful on high-ozone days in the summer and stay indoors if directed. Ground-level ozone is nothing to joke about. It can cause coughing, throat irritation, and chest pain. It can also cause breathing problems and trigger asthma attacks. Kids who are active on hot summer days need to be aware of the air quality and how to protect themselves. If the air quality is poor, do less activity and try to stay indoors.
  2. Take public transportation on high ozone days. On high-ozone days, it is important to lower the number of cars on the road. Fewer cars will mean less air pollution. If you hear that it is a high-ozone day, catch a ride with a friend or ride the bus. You’ll be helping the air and your lungs will thank you for it!
  3. Fill up your car’s gas tank after dark on high ozone days. By filling up your car’s gas tank after dark, you can help keep the air cleaner.

 

Content last reviewed July 20, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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