May is Asthma Awareness Month, and rightfully so – as many as 25.5 million Americans are living with asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The chronic condition negatively affects the lungs by causing wheezing, chest tightness, breathlessness and coughing. Asthma often affects people of all ages, and researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes it.

We do know, however, that exposure to coal ash among people with asthma can create worsening health problems, especially in children. The harmful pollution can ignite a potentially-fatal asthma attack or lead to other problems like heart problems, stroke, chronic bronchitis and more.

Smog created from coal ash pollution can lead to chest pain, coughing and breathing difficulties. It can also make the average asthma symptoms much more life-threatening.

Children are at greatest risk for dangerous health problems from coal ash exposure, according to a study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children are often outside more than adults, which increases their length of exposure to the pollution. Also, children’s lungs are still developing and are more susceptible to damage from environmental toxins.

During asthma awareness month, it’s important to recognize the outside factors that can increase the dangerousness of asthma itself. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) conducts asthma-related research focused on how environmental factors, like pollution, impact asthma. Research has shown that different kinds of air pollution impact asthma differently. While there is no cure for asthma and successful asthma management is possible, it can be life-threatening if outside factors like coal ash exposure exist.

Learn more about coal ash exposure or Asthma Awareness month now.