Health Watch -- Ozone Season

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Hot summer weather could hold hazards for your lungs.

This is the time of year when you start seeing ozone alerts on the nightly weathercast. But isn't ozone supposed to protect you from the sun? The earth's ozone layer of the atmosphere does help block some of the harmful rays of the sun, but the ozone they warn you about on the news is a different thing. Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants from cars and chemical plants react in heat and sunlight. The hot, sunny days of summer are ideal for ozone formation.

What does an ozone alert mean to you? Dr. David Khan, an allergy specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that high ozone levels can make a person who has asthma or allergies even more sensitive to the things that trigger their reactions. That raises the risk for an asthma attack.

Even people without allergies can have short-term respiratory distress on high-ozone days if they do strenuous outdoor activities.

If you have difficulty breathing, cough, breathe rapidly, experience shortness of breath or have discomfort in your chest, stay indoors as much as possible on high-ozone days. Avoid strenuous exercise until the ozone level and your breathing improve. Monitor both your asthma and ozone levels and take preventative medication when necessary.

You can do your part to prevent high-ozone days by taking public transportation or starting a car pool. Some cities even offer free rides on public transportation on ozone alert days.