How Do Heat Waves Affect Air Quality?

If it feels hot as heck, it’s not all in your head. The scorching temperatures are making headlines and leaving most of us feeling like we live in a sauna. What gives, and how are these heat waves impacting the air we breathe?

What’s Going on with These Heat Waves?

We’re currently experiencing an El Niño season. This refers to a climate pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It brings above-average warm temperatures to the surface of the sea. El Niño also influences the weather across the entire globe. Couple this with climate change, and we can start to understand why we’re seeing such extreme heat.

And when we say “extreme,” we mean it. According to news outlets, the planet reached its hottest recorded temperature on Monday, July 3. On Tuesday, it beat it. Other sources say that this past June might’ve been the hottest June since the late 1800s.

This is one record we don’t want to be breaking.

You might be thinking, “Okay, so it’s hot and uncomfortable. What’s the big deal?” Well, it is a big deal. Climate scientist Friederike Otto told Reuters, “It’s a death sentence for people and ecosystems.” NPR echoes a similar sentiment, noting that these temperatures make it impossible to safely work, play, and exercise outside. It can harm your heart and lungs, particularly for babies and the elderly. This only gets worse when you combine the heat with humidity. And, importantly, it can worsen air pollution.

Let’s talk about that next.

How Do Heat Waves Make Air Pollution Worse?

At first glance, temperature and air quality might not seem to be related. But indeed, there’s a connection between the two. And unfortunately, the recent heat waves and rising temperatures could very likely mean poorer air quality. But why?

This is because certain types of air pollution — like ground-level ozone — thrive in hot, sunny weather. The sunlight is what fuels the reactions that create ozone in our atmosphere. This can ultimately cause the ozone to reach dangerous levels. 


man wiping sweat outside


If you live in a particularly humid climate, you have certain considerations. Humidity can lead to an increase in airborne pollutants, like molddust mites, and other allergens. It also comes with a decrease in air circulation, which means that those pollutants hang out where they are instead of moving on. Humidity can create a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. And finally, it causes the heat index to rise. This means that your body will have a harder time cooling itself down.

Conversely, if you live in a dry area that’s prone to wildfires, there’s even more to consider. With the soil being so dry, wildfires are more common. These are yet another source of air pollution, as they release more carbon dioxide and particle pollution into the atmosphere and thus, the air we breathe. The smoke from wildfires can linger for weeks and months, and it can easily find its way into your home. The long-term effects of wildfire smoke can be disastrous.

So, it’s not just outdoor air pollution that’s a concern. It’s also what’s happening inside the walls of where you live and work.

How Long Will These Heat Waves Last?

Commonly, seasons of El Niño last somewhere between nine and 12 months. It technically started during the spring, it’ll reach its peak intensity in the late fall or winter, and it’ll weaken during the spring or early summer of next year.

What Can We Do About It?

This conversation can’t happen without talking about what we can do to stop climate change. “But I’m just one person. How much of an impact could I possibly have?” you might be asking. Actually, more than you might think. 

Here are some simple things you can do in your everyday life to stop climate change:

  • Reduce food waste. Only buy what you can eat. If you don’t finish it, freeze it, donate it, or compost it.
  • Eat less meat. Even if you only go meatless one day per week (or a few meals per week), you’re making an impact. Animal agriculture and meat production are huge contributors to global warming.
  • Speak with your wallet. Try to shop with brands that are climate-friendly and use responsible methods of production.
  • Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics. Switch to reusable shopping bags, skip the straw with your go-to coffee order, and opt for beeswax wrap over plastic cling wrap.


woman grocery shopping with a reusable tote


If we all pitch in, we can move mountains. However, we can’t expect perfection (especially not in the beginning), and some degree of pollution will persist, probably for a very long time. So, how can you keep it out of your home?


  • Make sure there are no gaps around your windows and doors. If there are, seal them or add insulation.
  • Use an air purifier. Make sure it utilizes a replaceable, medical-grade HEPA 13 filter, and an activated carbon filter.
  • Check If the air quality in your area is poor, avoid going outside. If you have to go outside, wear a mask.
  • Be mindful of air circulation. If the air quality in your area is good, you want to encourage airflow in your home. If it’s bad, set your HVAC system to recirculate so that it doesn’t bring air from the outside into your home.

  • Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Heat Waves

    While prevention is better than cure, air pollution is likely still finding its way inside your home. Thankfully, you can take action and stop it from negatively impacting your and your family’s health. The Sans air purifier monitors the air quality of your home in real-time and will alert you when it’s time to change the filter. Day and night, it will help keep your family safe and healthy. Get ahead of heat waves, air pollution, and your wellness. Shop with us today.