Patient Care

How Does Air Quality Affect Our Health?

Jun. 6, 2023

When you head outside today, you may notice a few things out of the norm–the sky looks tinted, the air might smell toasty, and the sun has a red, hazy glow. All of this is due to winds blowing towards New York from about 250-300 miles north, near Quebec, Canada, where over 150 wildfires are burning across the land.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued an alert indicating a concerning air quality index for Western New York, Central New York, Eastern Lake Ontario, and the Adirondacks.

How do I protect my health? 

While there are undoubtedly environmental concerns, these levels of air pollution also impact our health. Elizabeth Murray, DO, MBA, FAAP, board-certified pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician recommends precautions to take while the air quality alert is in effect.

  • Limit your outdoor activity, if possible. For those who work outside, try to pace yourself or wear a mask to filter out the particles in the air. 

  • At home, keep your windows closed until the air quality improves. You can check on the air quality in your area at

  • In your car, use the air recirculation button, which is usually a button with an arrow turning around inside the car.

  • For those with asthma, keep inhalers and spacers close by. 

Who is the most vulnerable?

Those with asthma, heart disease, or other respiratory issues are most at risk, says Daniel Croft, MD, MPH, a member of URMC's Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) and assistant professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care for the department of medicine.

Those who smoke or vape may have added risk compared to the general population who don’t use these products. This could be a time to consider quitting smoking, or reducing tobacco/vape use, even temporarily.

For all others, if you remain outside for extended periods or exert yourself outdoors, you may feel some irritation in your eyes or nose and feel out of breath more quickly than usual. As the smoke and air quality consists or worsens, these tips can apply to everyone, regardless of sensitivity: stay inside if possible, recirculate the air in the car, avoid strenuous activity outdoors, wear a N95 or respirator when outside and use an indoor air cleaner if able. 

Where should I seek care?

If you or a loved one are experiencing health concerns related to air quality, there are many options to get the care that you need. 

You can call your primary care physician or pediatrician with concerns, or you can see UR Medicine providers via On-Demand Video Visits. Video visits are available for patients ages 18+, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.–8 p.m., and weekends from 8 a.m.–noon & 12:30–4:30 p.m. In addition to providing medical care, providers can determine whether you or your child are in need of further medical attention at urgent care or at the emergency department.

If you or a loved one experiences a medical emergency, call 911. 

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