April 27, 2023

How Air Quality Monitoring Helps Me with Asthma and Loss of Smell?

Asthma and Air Quality

My name is Debra Fisher. I have asthma and I also experienced permanent damage to my olfactory nerves in 2007. I am unable to detect when I am around anything that triggers an attack and smoke is the worst. Let me share a story about how I go on with life with this health condition and how air quality monitoring with Atmotube allows me to prevent my asthma attacks.

What caused my adult-onset asthma

I’ve spent most of my life living near a city once given the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in the United States. In 1969, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) named Chattanooga (Tennessee) the “worst city in the nation for particulate air pollution.”  I can remember the deep smog so thick that you couldn’t even see the front of your car on a sunny day. Yet, I managed to not have lung issues for decades.

In 1996, while working for a large automotive parts manufacturer as a facilities engineer, I had a sudden shut down of my airways after being exposed to a smoky workplace procedure. In my early 40s, I had just experienced my first asthma attack. This developed into irritant induced asthma also known as Reactive Airways Disfunction Syndrome. My normal existence became one of not knowing what would trigger my next attack. I was rendered totally disabled and unable to work. This was disheartening and frightening after spending seven years as a single parent earning my engineering degree. All up in smoke, I guess that you would say. 

Over time, I discovered those things that triggered my attacks...cleaning agents, fragrances, and smoke, for example. But smoke was THE single worst trigger. I knew that when I smelled those things, I had only a few moments to get out the rescue inhaler and to shut down the HVAC or get myself to safety. I spent a lot of time suffering bouts of bronchitis that would turn into pneumonia. Then things got even worse for me.

How I live with permanent ofluctory dysfunction and asthma

In 2007, I used a zinc nasal spray that promised to ward off the cold that I felt coming on. The burning explosion in my sinus cavity told me that something was terribly wrong. Over the next two weeks, my sense of smell took some radical turns. First everything began to smell rotten. I was repulsed by the smell of food... none of which smelled as it should and none of it smelled good. Then I began to notice that I couldn’t smell anything. Doctors were baffled. There was nothing to be done. In just a few short months, I had no sense of smell. My one defense against odors that could trigger a fatal asthma attack was gone. Life became a bit terrifying. My only safe space was home.

I bought some very large air purifiers. They were very noisy but they helped to keep me alive as long as I stayed in the house. I wished for a solution... something small and compact that I could take everywhere with me. I could find none. I constantly checked the weather apps for current air quality conditions but those weren’t monitored near my home. I also depended on my neighbors to warn me of smoke nearby but they weren’t always available. I kept N95 masks everywhere... by my bed, in my purse, throughout the house. I was wearing masks long before COVID came along. They are just a way of life for me. But I still had some serious asthma attacks that usually developed into bronchitis. 

For the past 13 years, I have lived in a small neighborhood out in the rural area of Hamilton County, Tennessee. Developers are rapidly buying up farmland and turning it into tract housing. This means a lot of burning of trees and brush as hundreds of homes are being built. And I can’t smell any of that smoke.  I continued to suffer from bronchitis a couple of times a year and sometimes pneumonia. This was only exacerbated when I took a part time job in 2017 that required me to travel. I couldn’t smell smoke or fragrances when at people’s homes. I was getting ill more frequently. 

How Atmotube PRO air quality monitors help me manage my asthma 

Around this same time in mid 2019, I saw an article that talked about the Atmotube, a small, compact air quality monitor.  After some research, I decided to make the investment as I had not found any other portable device that could warn of the polluted air around me. I bought the Atmotube PRO because I really needed that particulate matter information for smoke detection. I started carrying it on my travels for my job. The compact size made it easy to clip on a belt loop. At least it warned me whenever I was in a dangerous situation but I wasn’t always able to extricate myself. However, before 2019 was over, after my umpteenth round of bronchitis from smoke exposure at someone’s home, my doctor put a stop to those work visits. Since then, I have worked from my own home via telephone.

You would think that would solve my problem but no. There is still the local burning. But now I don’t have to depend on my neighbors. I use my Atmotube PRO. I will put it out on my deck for a few minutes before I plan to go outside or open windows. If the particulate matter count is up from what keeps me breathing easy then I don’t go out or I wear an N95 mask. 

Any particulate count outdoors over 12 μg/m3 gets me worried. If it hits higher than that, I wear a mask. It seems a low number but my lungs are very sensitive to irritants especially smoke. I am most comfortable when the PM2.5 and PM10 are 2.5 to 9 μg/m3.

March 1, 2023, the particulate count outside was VERY high. I was wearing a mask outside.

March 1, 2023: a screenshot of the indoor count right before going outside. 

I suppose that the pollution trends that I see with Atmotube use is that on nice days, developers like to burn so looks can be deceiving. I kind of look forward to rainy days for that reason. The spring brings high pollen count and my PM counts rise then. Pollen is not very triggering for me so I sometimes have to check with my neighbors to see if they smell smoke to see if those high PMs are smoke related. Overall, I am safer in my house but at least with the Atmotube, I can go out and feel that I can monitor what goes on around me.

I clip it on my clothes when I do go out. The barometric pressure is handy because low pressure can bring on headaches so I am warned ahead of time. I monitor the app for changes constantly. When I go anywhere in my car, I clip it on my purse and keep the app open while I travel. In the car, I notice that the PM counts rise in traffic despite have the outdoor air off and keeping a fresh cabin filter. Sometimes, when it gets too high, I put on my mask. 

How Air Quality Monitors and Air Purifiers Work Together

Together with the air purifiers, the system is working beautifully.  I have 3 Levoit air purifiers and one very large Austin Air air purifier. The Austin Air runs constantly and can't be controlled by an app. The Levoits are controlled by the VeSync app. I can adjust them based on the input from the Atmotube.

My "safety kit": my air purifiers, my mask, my inhaler, and, of course, my Atmotube. 

Why a Portable Air Quality Monitor Suits Me Better than Online Air Quality Maps

I use the various weather or pollution apps on a regular basis, for example, the Weatherbug app and the category "The Air You Breathe." It gives me a particulate count but not particular close to my house. As with all of my apps, they are only good for an approximation and don't show the smoke that might come from the field about 1000 feet away where they are doing massive brush burns. This is why I rely on my Atmotube directly. 

I also check the VeSync app that goes with my air purifiers. It warns me of nearby wildfires and the corresponding PM2.5 count. In addition, I have the AirNow app on my phone. I have placed a red dot in approximation of my address related to the locations of the air monitors in my area. It also shows wildfire and smoke plumes. The closest monitor, a Purple Air, is at least 10 miles away so it is only good for a generalization and, again, not good for the nearby burning. I also use them to get an idea of what the pollution forecast is going to be. But still, Atmotube provides me with more accurate real-time data.

I have not had a major asthma or bronchitis episode for nearly three years. In today’s polluted world, my Atmotube PRO helps keep me healthy. And breathing. I no longer feel bound to my house. 

Debra Fisher

Chattanooga, Tennessee

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