Los Angeles is known for its pristine beaches, balmy weather—and smog. Exercising on smoggy days is problematic. I remember engaging in track practice at University High in West LA on smoggy days. After a run. My teammates and I would be stricken with tightness in the chest, making it difficult to continue the workout. On October 23, UCLA Health System announced that it had developed a free smartphone app that can display air quality. It should allow individuals to determine the best time to exercise and when to stay indoors.
The developers of the app cite an example of an AirForU app user. LA resident Yareli Sanchez jogs regularly, but she never used to know if the day’s air quality was bad until after she had already set out for a run; her chest would tighten and it would become hard to breathe. She knew poor air quality triggered her asthma, but she didn’t have an appropriate way to check the day’s pollution levels. For the past few months, she has used the AirForU app, which uses GPS data to display local air quality ratings. The app is useful for anyone in the U.S. who views a hazy skyline and wonders how safe it is to breathe outside air.
“I depend on the AirForU app now, and I use it every time I plan on running,” said Ms. Sanchez, who helped test it before its launch. She added, “The app is really convenient for helping me manage my asthma and minimize my exposure to pollution.” The free app can be used on iPhones and Androids. It delivers local air-quality measurements directly to the user’s phone and displays real-time updates every hour and a prediction for the next day. Asthmatics, families planning a trip to the playground, individuals who exercise outside and anyone else concerned with air quality can use the app to make decisions regarding where and whether to go outdoors.
“The AirForU app displays air quality information in the places they care about, like their neighborhood, their place of work or their favorite park,” explained Magali Delmas, PhD, a professor of environmental economics at UCLA and head of the team that created the app. She added, “And when we see wildfires in the next few months, this will be a useful tool because there will be a lot of variation in the air quality from one neighborhood to another based on the location and size of the fire.”
The AirForU app draws data from monitors located nationwide and tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Users can also search for air quality in specific cities or zip codes, and push notifications alert the user air pollution if becomes unhealthy for sensitive groups. The app is a joint project between UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and UCLA Health. UCLA doctors plan to recommend the app to patients with heart or lung problems.
“Research has shown that, on days with poor air quality, outdoor activity puts people at higher risk of inhaling particles that cumulatively lead to increased risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and many other health problems,” said pediatric pulmonary asthma specialist Sande Okelo, MD, director of the Pediatric Asthma Center at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. She added, “But many of our patients don’t have a convenient way to check the daily air quality. I expect the AirForU app will be very important in helping them make better decisions about exposure to pollution.”
The AirForU developers also developed the app to be part of a research project to learn how much people know about and react to the health effects of poor air quality. The app encourages users to participate by asking them to respond to questions such as whether they decided to stay inside due to poor air quality, whether they suffered an asthma attack that day, or whether they installed indoor air filters.
The app provides a six-level air quality measurement scale, from good to hazardous. Separate tabs give information regarding how to respond (e.g., “reduce outdoor exertion”), the locations of large manufacturing facilities emitting toxic chemicals nearby and frequently asked questions. Research has shown that poor air quality disproportionately affects asthmatics, heart and lung disease patients, pregnant women, young children and the elderly.
The AirForU app is available at this link.