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Smog like 'sunburn inside your lungs'

By Amy Cox

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Health tips for protecting yourself on high ozone days:
•Don't exercise or work outdoors in the afternoon
•Avoid congested streets and rush hour traffic, sources of air pollution.
•Fill up gas tanks after dusk. 
•Use human-powered or electric rather than gasoline-powered lawn equipment.
•Monitor pollution forecasts on TV or in newspapers. They are also available online at

Source: American Lung Association

(CNN) -- Sunny days and warmer temperatures herald the coming summer, but they also can mean ozone alerts, hazy skies and breathing troubles.

Nearly half of the American public is exposed to unhealthy amounts of smog, according to a new report from the American Lung Association that ranked the smoggiest U.S. cities.

Dr. Norman H. Edelman, a consultant with the association, said that smog can inflame and damage the lining of the lungs, leading to swelling and restricted airways.

"It's like a sunburn inside your lungs," he said.

This inflammation can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest pain, according to Edelman. It also can aggravate asthma and bring on attacks.

People at most risk are those with asthma and other respiratory problems such as emphysema and bronchitis. Children and the elderly are also especially vulnerable.

But air pollution doesn't just affect those with chronic lung conditions. Healthy adults can be sidelined from bad pollution, too, Edelman said.

High levels of ozone, the main ingredient in smog, can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, even in the average person. Bad levels of ozone are formed when heat and sunlight warm certain pollutants from cars and smokestacks, hitting the highest peaks in the summer months.

Those who are active outdoors, especially in the summer, may feel like it's more difficult for them to breathe as deeply and vigorously as they usually would.

Smog's health effects may extend to heart problems, too. Chronic exposure to air pollution has been linked to heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Smog also has been shown in animal studies to reduce the immune system's ability to fight off bacterial infections, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But how can people prevent these possible health effects?

"Stay inside as much as possible on high alert days," Edelman advised, referring to the smog alerts issued by the EPA and state and local air agencies.

For those who work or exercise outdoors, he recommended trying to get as much done in the early morning, when smog levels are at their lowest.

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