Air Quality and Its Effects on Allergic Individuals

The Washington, DC, Northern, Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area has its share of pollutants in its air as well as the many allergens that are known to be prevalent. The allergens that are common in the DC metro area include tree and grass pollens in the Spring, ragweed pollen in the Fall, and mold spores which are perennial in nature. The molds are year-round due to the history of Washington, DC being a swamp many years ago. The humidity also tends to be high in the area, which favors the growth of molds. Regarding pollutants, there are many different types of pollutants in the Washington, DC metropolitan area including such cities as Gainesville, VA, Falls Church, VA, and Tysons Corner, VA.. Some of these pollutants include carbon monoxide, ozone, organic dusts and other fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead emissions.

It is not news to anyone that the traffic in the Washington, DC metro area is sometimes horrific. Not only does it play havoc with people’s temperament, but so many motor vehicles produce emissions which contribute greatly to the air pollution and thus the air quality of the area. In the summers, this pollution tends to be worse. The sunny days will produce increased levels of ozone which has been determined to be hazardous to one’s health, particularly people with lung disease such as people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD.

Almost all patients with allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) and/or asthma know a lot about the pollen count and what it means. The pollen count is the number of pollen grains in one cubic meter of air. For example, if the pollen count for tree pollen is 250, it means that there are 250 grains of tree pollen in a sample of air that is 1 meter X 1 meter X 1 meter. Keep in mind that 1 meter is 39.37 inches. Different locations throughout the U.S. have different guidelines depending on the types of pollens they have and the quantity of the pollen released into the air. As a general rule, the pollen count levels can be interpreted by the following values: Trees – 1-14 is Low; 15-89 is Moderate; 90-1,499 is High; 1,500 and above is Very High. Grasses – 1-4 is Low; 5-19 is Moderate; 20-199 is High; 200 and above is Very High. Weeds – 1-9 is Low; 10-49 is Moderate; 50-499 is High; 500 and above is Very High. Molds – 1-6,499 is Low; 6,500-12,999 is Moderate; 13,000-49,999 is High; 50,000 and above is Very High. In fact, you can always click Today’s Pollen Count at the top of our website to see the latest pollen count for the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area. Many individuals use this knowledge to help them guide when they should avoid certain outdoor activities. Generally, the pollen counts are the highest in the mornings through midday. Planning to do outdoor activities, such as exercising or doing yard work, in the evening is usually recommended to minimize pollen exposure.

In addition to being aware of the pollen count, it is also important to be aware of the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI indicates how polluted the air is in your area. The AQI is calculated based on 5 major pollutants which include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter, and ground-level ozone. The last two pollutants (fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone) pose the greatest threat to an individual’s health. The AQI is divided into 6 different zones of increasing amounts of pollution and thus health risk. The zones are color-coded and in order from less pollution to more pollution are as follows: Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, and Maroon. In the Washington, DC area, it is not uncommon to have a few “Code Red” days during the summer, particularly when it is hot, humid, and sunny. “Code Green” is the best air quality and poses little or no risk of any health concern. “Code Yellow” signifies acceptable air quality and may pose a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are very sensitive to air pollution. “Code Orange” indicates an unhealthy quality of air for some sensitive groups of people. “Code Red” means that the air quality is generally unhealthy for the general public, although usually only sensitive groups will experience more serious health effects. “Code Purple” notifies the general public that the air is very unhealthy and tends to occur in emergency conditions, such as when there is a chemical spill. “Code Maroon” indicates hazardous conditions where everyone will most likely experience untoward health issues. Generally, it is recommended to stay indoors when the level is “Code Red” and above.

The board certified allergists of Black & Kletz Allergy treat patients of all ages including children and the elderly in the Falls Church, VA, Tysons Corner, VA, and Gainesville, VA areas. Children and elderly persons tend to be more sensitive to poor air quality, as well as individuals with lung conditions such as asthma and COPD. Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 office locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area with offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. The Washington, DC and McLean offices are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. If you would like to make an appointment, please call us or you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. The allergy doctors of Black & Kletz Allergy have been serving the greater Washington, DC metro area for more than 50 years and we pride ourselves in excellent quality allergy, asthma, and immunology care in a friendly, caring, and professional environment.