Learn how to check your local air quality so you don't exercise in unhealthy air.

Is Your Air Unhealthy? 4 Ways to Find Out

If you live in California, where smoke from wildfires has caused major air quality problems in the summer and fall of 2018, air quality is already among your health concerns. But for residents elsewhere, smog and pollution are serious worries too, whether from smoke or other types of industrial pollution.

In the past few years, research from the National Institutes of Health has linked poor air quality with heart disease, lung disease, and risk of premature death.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from unhealthy air, from staying indoors to wearing air filter masks. First, though, you have to know how unhealthy the air really is. Here’s are four ways to find out.

1. Check the Government’s Air Quality Index

The fastest and most accurate way to get real-time information on local air quality is to check the national air quality index maintained by the federal government. How? Go to the government website AirNow  and search by state or zip code. The site will give you your numerical local air quality index (AQI) as well as a map of showing readings for the surrounding area. A service of  the Environmental Protection Agency, Air Now has five categories of air health from good (green) to hazardous (dark purple) and the map is color coded so you can see where your air quality falls. The site also provides regularly updated wildfire smoke advisories and forecasts.

2. Ask the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association’s website State of the Air issues “report cards” on air quality, allowing you to look up your region and find out if your air rates an “A,” a “D” or somewhere in between. The readings are daily composites, and rate air in two categories, ozone and particulates. The site also offers an impressive level of data on the prevalence of asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease in the U.S. and useful information on prevention.

3. Track Wildfires

No matter where you live in the U.S., you can find out about nearby active fires using the fire-mapping website maintained by the National Forest Service. You can use it to assess local conditions, or to plan a drive, trip, or outdoor activity and avoid having fire or poor air quality affect your route or plans. Many states also offer their own interactive fire maps and websites where you can sign up for fire alerts.

4. Get a Spare the Air Alert

Spare the Air alerts are issued by regional governments when the air quality index exceeds healthy levels. Check for Spare the Air status alerts when the air looks smoggy.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.