Air Quality Life

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8 Clean air habits of highly effective college students

College can be a vibrant, transformative time in your life. But lurking in the background is one of the least visible but biggest threats to your college success: polluted air. Don't worry: you can do plenty to protect yourself.

Learning new subjects, making new friends, and staying up late nights to make sure you stay on top (or at least as close as you can get!) of every class – college can be a vibrant, transformative time in your life.

But lurking in the background is an immense and invisible threat to your college success: air pollution. And even more disturbing is just how damaging dirty air can be to your grades – air pollution can increase the number of mistakes you make on tests by up to 150 percent.1 

Air pollution can increase the number of mistakes you make on tests by up to 150 percent.

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom in your dorm room. Even if your college is in the middle of a polluted city or a region where pollutants are easily trapped, you can do plenty to minimize your exposure and protect your important investment: you.

8 Good Air Quality Habits for College Students

Here are eight ways that you can help ensure you have the cleanest air on campus. Get your friends, roommates, and fellow students involved, too

1. Keep an eye on your air quality.

Pollution can build up both indoors and out – libraries, classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, common areas, and pretty much everywhere else. And being indoors doesn’t necessarily shield you from poor outdoor air quality. Pollution can seep in through windows, doors, and other cracks in school buildings, especially older structures that weren’t built to be as airtight as modern, energy-efficient facilities.

But just when you think you’re free from pollution in a brand-new building, think again: a 2017 study from researchers at the University of Galati in Romania found that levels of formaldehyde, a compound commonly found in new homes and buildings (and deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organization), are often 30 percent higher in newer, airtight, “green” buildings than older, less airtight buildings.And because these buildings are designed to be so sealed up, any outdoor pollutants that do come in through temporarily opened windows or doors can get stuck there indefinitely.

But how can you tell if your Indoor Air Quality inside (IAQ) is good or bad? 

Easy: use an air quality monitor like the AirVisual Pro by IQAir to view real-time indoor and outdoor air quality readings as well as 72-hour air quality history and forecasting to help minimize your exposure to airborne pollutants. 

Knowledge is power – if indoor gases and pollutants build up, you’ll know that you need to open your windows to let in some fresh air. If outdoor pollutant levels are high, you’ll know to shut your windows and doors to preserve clean indoor air.

And if you have to cross campus or walk around university property when pollution is heavy, consider wearing an air pollution mask that’s KN95-rated (and slick-lookin’!) to protect you from at least 95% of airborne particle pollutants during those time where you simply can’t avoid outdoor pollution.

2. Avoid areas with heavy vehicle traffic.

Bus stops, school shuttle stops, urban campuses, and campuses close to highways have higher concentrations of common exhaust pollutants. Vehicle emissions ain’t nothing to mess with.

Car exhaust contains ultrafine particles (UFPs), tiny pollutants smaller than 0.1 microns that can get directly into your bloodstream and increase your risk of artery plaque build-up that can lead to serious conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).3 UFPs can even break through the blood-brain barrier and create stress responses throughout the body, which can ultimately have dangerous neurological effects.4

Car exhaust contains ultrafine particles, which can get directly into your bloodstream and lead to serious cardiac conditions like COPD.

That’s just the tip of the polluted iceberg. Vehicle exhaust is also known to contain nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and sulfur dioxide, all of which can harm your overall health.5

Don’t linger around these areas if you can help it or any longer than you need to. If you’re waiting for a ride, stand as far away from the road as possible. And try to hang out further into campus, away from major roadways and traffic (this may be more challenging on an urban campus). 

3. Avoid designated smoking areas (and smoking!).

Many schools are now tobacco-free, banning all forms of tobacco and nicotine products. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 2,100 campuses in the United States now prohibit smoking of any kind, more than triple the number of schools that did so 2012.6 

But that doesn’t mean you won’t run into clouds of smoke behind buildings, just outside campus, or in the dorm rooms of the incorrigible ne'er-do-wells. The only way you can really do to avoid tobacco smoke is to stay away from smokers and any areas designated for people who smoke. 

That doesn’t mean you have to renounce your smoker friends or travel around campus in a gas mask. Just let your friends know that you’d prefer they not smoke around you. Feel free to walk away when the people around you light up. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and 69 of them are known to cause cancer.7

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and 69 of them are known to cause cancer.

And don’t give in to the pressure to smoke yourself – inhaling tobacco smoke exposes you to over 4,000 chemicals that can trigger allergies and asthma symptoms as well as increase your risk of throat, heart, and lung cancer.8 

Vaping isn’t much better. In addition to the kinds of chemicals found in smoke, vapor smoke can contain chemicals released by the devices themselves, which can cause inflammation that’s been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.9

4. Keep your study space full of pure air.

The cleaner the air, the clearer your mind, and the better you’ll perform on assignments and tests. And this isn’t just blowing hot air: the numbers don’t lie. 

In 2012, a research team measured the effects of ambient air pollution on the performance of students on a certification exam and found that even minor changes in both PM2.5 and carbon monoxide (CO) levels in ambient air could result in significant decreases in test scores.10

A 2012 study found that even minor changes in both PM2.5 and carbon monoxide (CO) levels could result in significant decreases in test scores.

Specifically, this study illustrated that even a 10-point increase in PM2.5 levels dropped a person’s score by half a percent. For example, if normal PM2.5 levels are around a 25, considered Good on the Air Quality Index (AQI), and increase on a given day to 105, considered Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, the change in air quality could, all else being equal, result in a potential score of 91 percent on a test (an A-) dropping to an 87 percent (a B+).

And as a college student, you understand that huge disparities like that could end up being the difference between giving the valedictorian speech at graduation and just having your name called out for your diploma.

How do you mitigate such enormous effects? Use a personal air purifier like the Atem® Desk to create a personal breathing zone free of 99 percent of pollutants. Atem Desk filters pollutants as small as 0.003 microns, including mold, pollen, and other indoor pollutants common in school buildings. Even if the AQI jumps one day, the Atem shields you from these effects with a clean air bubble so that your test scores don’t budge one bit because of air quality.  Its sleek, compact design and optimized diffusion design make it ideal for tight dorm room spaces, too, where every square foot needs to be utilized to its fullest extent.

And Atem is flexible for your unpredictable college lifestyle – using accessories like a stylish carrying case, a portable battery pack with a 12-hour charge, and a convertible Atem Car air purifier kit to mount your Atem to your vehicle interior, you never have to be without clean air on campus or off.

5. Be proactive about your allergies or asthma treatment.

Whether you’re staying close to home or going away for college, take ownership of your medical treatment by scheduling regular doctor’s visits, taking prescriptions, and getting routine physicals to make sure you’re staying healthy. 

Use this opportunity to build relationships with your health providers as an adult. As you go through college, you’ll be exposed to new environments, new experiences, and new levels of stress that can trigger symptoms. Communicate these changes to your doctor to keep them up to date about your symptoms, allowing your doctor to give you the best possible treatment for your asthma or allergies.

And most importantly, learn what specific triggers exist on your college campus or in your dorm room so that you can limit your exposure to them and preserve your best health and top performance of your hardest classes and biggest new challenges.

6. Locate treatment centers near your school.

Find your campus health center as soon as you can. Almost every university has at least one center fully staffed with nurses and healthcare professionals who can help you with non-emergency treatments, medications, physical examinations, and other basic health needs. Then, find local urgent care and hospital facilities in case you need immediate, specialized treatment for severe allergies and asthma. 

Some universities are located near world-class facilities with doctors and researchers considered the best in their field. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources. 

Some universities are located near world-class medical facilities with doctors and researchers considered the best in their field. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources.

And if you haven’t already, look into long-term treatments for asthma and allergies, such as immunotherapy (getting shots to make you more resistant to allergens) and fitness plans that may help prevent symptoms and minimize your risk of more serious respiratory conditions later in life.

7. Work with your doctor to create an action plan.

If you haven't already, create an action plan to help with severe or life-threatening symptoms. An action plan (or management plan) is a written plan that you create with your doctor to help control your asthma or allergies.11 The goal of this action plan is to reduce or prevent flare-ups and emergency department visits. Keep your action plan with you in written form wherever you go so that others in your vicinity will know how to help you in case immediate action must be taken. 

In any case, be ready for emergencies. Be sure to carry emergency medicine with you at all times, such as your inhaler or EpiPen. Emergency room visits are not only financially draining but also emotionally and physically draining. Hopefully, your action plan can prevent such emergencies from taking place.

8. Discuss your action plan with those around you.

Don’t be a stranger: you’re going to meet tons of people during your college days. Some of your college friends may stick around for years – and if they know how to recognize and react to your symptoms, they may just save your life.

Tell your close friends, roommates, and classmates about your allergies or asthma so that they can help you out during an attack.

Tell your close friends, roommates, and classmates about your allergies or asthma so that they can help you out during an attack.

It can be harrowing to suddenly have trouble breathing or feel heavy head or chest pressure when you’re trying to remember info for a test, take lecture notes, or run from class to class. 

But having a buddy or two nearby to help you manage your symptoms and get help from campus medical staff. Enlist your friends to help keep your allergies or asthma under control, allowing you to stay focused on what matters: your school success.

Just remember: Clean air = clear mind.

You’ll face plenty of challenges in college, but air pollution shouldn’t be one of them. Get ahead of your class by taking clean air into your own hands. By changing just a few habits and being proactive about your health, you can remove some of the most daunting obstacles from your journey. Make sure that the 25,000 breaths you take every day instill your body with the strength and knowledge to excel.

Air Quality Life is brought to you by The IQAir Group, the world’s leading innovator of Indoor Air Quality solutions since 1963. This online publication is designed to educate and inform the public about the latest research and news affecting indoor and outdoor air quality.

Article Resources

[1] Allen JG, et al. (2016). Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: A controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510037

[2] Spiru P, et al. (2017). A review on interactions between energy performance of the buildings, outdoor air pollution and the indoor air quality. DOI: 10.1016/j.egypro.2017.09.039

[3] Araujo JA, et al. (2009). Particulate matter and atherosclerosis: Role of particle size, composition and oxidative stress. DOI: 10.1186/1743-8977-6-24

[4] Liu L, et al. (2017). Influence of exposure to coarse, fine and ultrafine urban particulate matter and their biological constituents on neural biomarkers in a randomized controlled crossover study. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.01.010

[5] Cars, trucks, and air pollution. (2014). https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/vehicles-air-pollution-and-human-health/cars-trucks-air-pollution#.W187TtJKiUk

[6] Tobacco-free policies on the rise across US colleges and universities. (2018). https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/s0621-tobacco-free-policies-colleges-universities.html

[7] Harms of cigarette smoking and health benefits of quitting. (2017). https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet

[8] Chemicals in cigarettes: From plant to product to puff. (2018). https://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/ProductsIngredientsComponents/ucm535235.htm

[9] Glantz SA. (2018). First evidence of long-term health damage from ecigs: Smoke e-cigarettes daily doubles risk of heart attacks. https://tobacco.ucsf.edu/first-evidence-long-term-health-damage-ecigs-smoking-e-cigarettes-daily-doubles-risk-heart-attacks

[10] Lavy V, et al. (2012). The impact of air pollution on cognitive performance and human capital formation. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/vlavy/text_and_tables_air_pollution_draft_20_09_12.pdf

[11] Asthma action plan. (2015). https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/actionplan.html

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