By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With all the hot weather this summer, 2012 has had 13 ozone action days so far – already more than last year’s nine days, seven in 2010 and six in 2009.

Breathing ozone can trigger coughing, a scratchy throat, or worse, it can aggravate asthma and emphysema.

“We know to expect it. We have respiratory therapy here available all the time to assist us with things, the treatments, the medications that they need,” says Dr. P.S. Martin, an emergency department physician at Allegheny General Hospital.

Ozone is a form of oxygen that is unstable and irritating.

“It’s basically an extra oxygen molecule and that makes it a highly reactive compound. When it makes contact with sensitive tissues, like the linings of the lungs and the airways, it causes damage and inflammation,” Dr. Martin explains.

Ground level ozone, which is the bad form of ozone, comes from a chemical reaction between car exhaust, gasoline fumes, chemical cleaners and sunlight.

This bad form of ozone is taking a toll on people’s health.

“A gentleman was at home, extremely short of breath, called EMS, and they arrived and his oxygen saturation were in the 50 percent range, which should be better than 90,” Dr. Martin said. “They did the appropriate treatment and by the time he arrived here, his saturations were in the upper 90s, and he was doing much better.”

The ER doctors expect more cases like this to come in today.

Even for people with no history of breathing problems, physical activity on an ozone action day could be hard on your lungs.

The Allegheny Health Department asks the public help out in the following ways on these days:

  • Limit daytime driving. Combine trips when possible.
  • Use public transit or ride share.
  • Walk or bicycle for short trips.
  • Avoid prolonged idling and jack rabbit starts.
  • Don’t refuel. If you must, do so after 7 p.m.
  • Refuel carefully. Don’t top off your tank.
  • Postpone mowing the lawn until after 7 p.m.
  • Use latex instead of oil-based paint.
  • Save energy. Wash dishes and clothes with full loads.
  • Keep window shades/blinds closed during the day to cut down on air conditioning.

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