How to stop poisoning your kidneys

The sky might LOOK blue... and the air might SMELL clean.

But don't step outside and inhale a lungful of that crisp autumn air just yet -- because it might not be as fresh as you think.

It could be full of hidden pollutants, and an urgent new report reveals a direct link between the quality of your air and your risk of kidney disease.

That's one of the nation's top 10 leading killers, hitting men and women alike and responsible for more deaths than breast and prostate cancers combined.

While it's often linked to high blood pressure and diabetes, doctors have noticed that an alarming number of patients with neither condition have been developing the disease in recent years.

Now, the new study of nearly 2.5 million American veterans shows one of the reasons for it: Folks who live in areas with higher-than-normal levels of particulate matter in the air have a much higher risk of developing both kidney disease and kidney failure.

The risk is so high that the study finds roughly 45,000 new cases of kidney disease and 2,400 cases of kidney failure are caused by pollution alone every year.

Obviously, the biggest risks are in areas with factories, coal mines, and other heavy industries.

But don't breathe easy if you're not near one of those places.

The new report finds these kidney-damaging levels of pollution are found all around the country -- especially in the South, Midwest, Northeast, and even right here in Southern California.

That puts much of the nation's population right into the danger zone -- and, along with increasing the risk of kidney disease, the toxins from pollution can increase your odds of other chronic health problems.

Obviously, you can't stop breathing. And I'm sure you don't want to live in a bubble or move (even if moving is pretty tempting sometimes).

Fortunately, there are some simple actions you can take to cut your exposure and minimize your risk.

First, know your air. The EPA and other online resources can tell you about the particulate matter levels in your area and even the types of pollutants you might have.

Second, if you live in an area with moderate to heavy pollution, use caution going outside, especially on days when the air quality is low. You may even want to consider wearing an anti-pollution mask on those days.

And third, invest in an air purifier for your home -- ideally one with a HEPA filter -- and be sure to wash or replace it regularly.